Douglas County is moving forward with acquiring 17 temporary shelters as part of their plan to address the rise in local homelessness.
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The “Pallet” structures are 64 square feet, collapsible and include air conditioning, mattresses and electricity. They will cost the county about $200,000.
Commissioners Abe Laydon and George Teal voted to approve the decision in a June 13 meeting.
“We’re not interested in building residential communities for the homeless or creating encampments on any level,” Laydon said. “We're looking to support our code enforcement and by law in order to have that code enforcement there has to be a place for people to go.”
Commissioner Lora Thomas voted against the decision, saying she felt the county wasn’t ready for the move.
Laydon has said that because of a decision by a district court judge in Fort Collins, the county must have a shelter available in order to enforce camping restrictions. In the case, People vs. Wiemold, the judge ruled that a man couldn’t be cited for violating a camping ban because there was no shelter available to him.
The county currently only has a ban on camping in parks and open space in the county.
While there is a Winter Shelter Network in the county from November to March, the option is only available to women and children. The county also recently appropriated funds to participate in the Arapahoe County GOALS facility, which is limited to families. There is no other shelter available in the county.
The Pallet structure concept is modeled after a similar program in Aurora.
The Town of Castle Rock recently voted to write a letter to the commissioners stating they were not in favor of a possible plan to place the shelters by the justice center, which is located in the town.
“We need to have a caring, empathetic and sympathetic voice for our homeless and at the same time, I don’t think there’s a place in Castle Rock to have a shelter, I think that there are other places in Douglas County that lend itself to a shelter better than us,” Mayor Jason Gray said.
In a June 9 meeting of the Douglas County Homeless Initiative, Director of Human Services Dan Makelky said staff has looked at locations throughout the county for the pallets to be placed, including in an industrial park off Santa Fe Drive in Highlands Ranch.
Once locations are identified, staff will have to present the findings to commissioners before any decision is made, he said. A spokesperson for the county said no meeting has been set.
“Candidly we’ve had a lot of tours, a lot of discussion, staff has worked to identify locations that make sense that are non-residential that don’t impact communities negatively, but nothing official has been decided,” Laydon said.
The county doesn’t yet have enough storage space to store the pallets once they are delivered and will need to look at leased spaces, said Jennifer Eby, assistant director of community services for the county.
While Eby initially included bathrooms in the quote to go with the pallets, Teal said he wasn’t interested in including them.
“I know that this came up as an idea on how our response to the homeless situation should occur, but I’m hesitant to go into plans where we set these up and say ‘that’s the solution,’” Teal said.
Commissioners recently approved a combined case manager and law enforcement team called HEART, or Homeless Engagement Assistance and Resource Team. The county plans to encourage residents to call them when they encounter a homeless person they want to help.
The county is also planning to begin a signage campaign asking the public not to hand out cash to people experiencing homelessness.
The homeless initiative will host a live town hall 6 p.m. June 22 at the Philip Miller Building, 100 Third St. in Castle Rock, where residents can talk directly with commissioners and provide feedback. Residents can also join online by visiting douglas.co.us/townhall. The initiative’s next regular meeting is July 14 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at 4400 Castleton Court. in Castle Rock.
The county plans to also use the structures for emergency shelters for situations such as natural disasters.
“We really believe that we are so early on this in Douglas County that we can nip it in the bud and get to functional zero,” Laydon said “We may never be able to solve this, but we can get pretty darn close to ensuring that this is the safest, cleanest, crime free community that citizens have come to expect and enjoy.”
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