The Town of Parker recently approved a new urban camping ban in response to the growing number of personal items found as a result of camping in public parks.
The ban, approved by town council June 4, makes it illegal to camp on public land and illegal to sit, kneel, lie down or recline in the public right-of-way during high-traffic hours.
Josh Hans, public information officer for the Parker Police Department, said the measure was passed in response to the department seeing an increase in camping and personal property being left in the parks, open spaces and bike trails. People have left behind unsanitary and moldy items, including human waste and illegal paraphernalia.
“The focus of this is to ensure all Parker residents and community members are able to safely use Parker property and give Parker staff better direction on how to give assistance to individuals,” Hans said.
The new ordinance is in line with several similar bans in nearby suburban cities and towns, including Castle Rock, Aurora and Centennial. Hans said the resolution was passed to help define specifically how to handle the activities that were already prohibited. The town has had rules against urban camping in place since 1989, but this new ban adds more specificity to what police can and should do to enforce it.
“This is just bringing old ordinances to modern (standards),” Mayor Mike Waid said. “It's not the first time we've looked at this ordinance. It's just one of the issues we have to look at.”
The resolution comes amid a housing crunch in the Denver metro area, where an increasing number of people are unable to afford a place to live.
Shift Research Lab and Phyllis Resnick, Ph.D., lead economist for the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University, recently reported in a survey that Colorado renters spend about 30 percent of their income on housing, which economists say is costly.
In Parker, the median sales price of a single-family home was $490,000 in April, up nearly 8 percent over the same time a year ago, according to the Denver Metro Association of Realtors. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the town was $1,860 in May, up more than 6 percent over last year, according to apartmentlist.com. Both of those figures put Parker among the most expensive places to live in the metro area.
“I think this ban is simply more pre-emptive,” said Dennis Gorton, executive director of Parker's Southeast Community Outreach, a nonprofit organization that helps people struggling with suburban poverty.
Gorton said the lack of affordable housing in Parker is troubling and may not change any time soon.
Homelessness in Denver — where many people live on the streets — generally looks different than homelessness in suburban communities.
Diane Roth, public relations director for the Parker Task Force, said most homeless people in Parker are former Parker residents who have hit difficult times and are unable to afford a home in their hometown. For the most part, these people sleep in their cars or on a friend's couch.
“The Parker ordinance is aimed at people who are truly unsheltered,” she said. “I don't see that it's going to make a lot of changes in the community.”
Gorton said plans are in place to build attainable housing for more middle-income residents like firefighters, police and teachers in Douglas County, but building these complexes in Parker specifically is difficult.
“It's very, very difficult to find any property that's affordable in Parker,” Gorton said. “We have firemen and policemen who can't live in Parker. It's horrible that we aren't aggressively working together.”
But the new resolution is not primarily about homelessness, Waid said. He said urban camping has not been an issue in Parker. The ban is about safety for Parker residents who use the public parks and trails and keeping old rules updated.
Whereas the Parker Public Works department used to go around to maintain the parks, Parker police, driving around in blue golf carts, now monitor the parks for illegal campers. The end goal, Waid said, is to point people to resources such as Southeast Community Outreach or the Parker Task Force.
“This gives us the ability to come in," Waid said, "and say `It's illegal and you can't do it right here, here's your notice, but now we've made contact with you and let's find some place to get you some help.'”