Centennial considers camping ban on city property

Amid homelessness concerns, city considers prohibiting living outdoors

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As cities in the Denver metro area continue to grapple with visible homelessness on street corners, sidewalks and river banks, Centennial may soon approve a ban on camping on city-owned property.

City council passed the ordinance on a preliminary 7-0 vote — Councilmembers Ken Lucas and Ron Weidmann were absent — at its meeting June 17. The council took the vote without discussing the proposal, green-lighting it together along with other matters. A final vote on the ban will take place at the July 8 council meeting, where citizens can give input on the proposal during a public hearing.

“Recently, the city was confronted with small camps located in the city’s rights-of-way, which have drawn attention to the larger issue of camping on city-owned property,” a report by city staff read.

While Centennial has not seen “large encampments to-date,” the report said such camping “poses potential significant impacts to the citizens and to the city’s ability to reserve city property for its primary purposes.”

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office was made aware of camps along East County Line Road between South Broadway and South Clarkson Street, the High Line Canal also between those two streets, and near East Dry Creek Road and South Colorado Boulevard.

Along County Line Road, a large buffer of grass-and-dirt path — with no sidewalk — sits between the street and neighborhood fences for several blocks in that area. Similarly, at Dry Creek Road and Colorado Boulevard, much land sits undeveloped near the street corners.

Reports of camping at those locations came in within the last month or so, said Glenn Thompson, public safety bureau chief for the sheriff’s office. Centennial has seen a few reports of camping before from time to time, said Allison Wittern, city spokesperson.

"City council is considering this ordinance in an effort to be proactive should camping on city-owned property become more prevalent," Wittern said.

Centennial’s proposal would ban camping on roads, sidewalks, trails, parks and city buildings or other city-owned property. The ordinance also mentions floodplains and drainageways, adding that “camping within such areas places persons at risk of harm” and “potentially impedes the flow of stormwater to the detriment of the general public.”

The ban would apply to property overseen by the city’s stormwater body, the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority, which manages certain waterways in the city.

Nearby, the issue of camping along the South Platte River in Englewood came to a head earlier this month, when police cleared out roughly 45 homeless camps that were home to around 70 people on June 4. The encampments created problems for public health and safety, according to police. Change the Trend Network, a group that works to address homelessness in the Englewood area, provided information about food, shelters, medical care and other resources during the clearing.

During a cleanup along that river in January 2018, Englewood police counted 21 campsites with about 30 people living on its east banks. Some 25 truckloads of trash, human waste, syringes and needles were hauled out.

Although exact numbers are difficult to come by because homeless populations are counted generally by county, not city, Englewood officials have said the city’s homeless population has grown over the past few years.

Englewood has joined Littleton and Sheridan — its neighbors along the Platte and major roads — in searching for a solution, forming the Tri-Cities Homelessness Policy Group. The body, which meets monthly, includes city officials, police and community organizations and began in the fall. It aims to study resources and federal, state and regional funding that may be available to help tackle the issue.

Centennial has not communicated with surrounding cities on what the potential effects of a Centennial camping ban would be for them, Wittern said.

To the sheriff’s office’s knowledge, Centennial and nearby unincorporated Arapahoe County areas don’t have homeless resource centers or shelters, Thompson said. Most of the metro area’s shelter locations are in Denver.

“There are many resource centers or locations where the community can find assistance in Arapahoe County; however, they wouldn’t be specifically identified as just being for the homeless,” Thompson said.

Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder prohibit camping on public property, according to the Centennial staff report. Parker approved a camping ban in June 2018.

During Denver’s municipal election in May, voters considered an initiative that would have overturned the city’s camping ban. Known as “Right to Survive,” Initiative 300 was turned down by 81% of voters, or about 146,600.

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