CAÑON CITY, Colo. — Cañon City Council Members are considering an ordinance that would provide a safe space for the homeless. The ordinance continues to stir controversy in the community on whether it’s the right choice for Cañon City.
A safe outdoor space is a monitored area that offers both shelter and support services to people experiencing homelessness. There is a limitation of use not to exceed six months, but community members worry the space will only encourage more homeless to head to Cañon City.
In 2020, the number of homeless grew to nearly 400 people, according to the Cañon City Mayor Ashely Smith.
Although with coordinated efforts by behavioral and mental health clinics and local law enforcement, homelessness has decreased by 50% in Cañon City. “We are still seeking to solve homelessness because it is a serious issue in our community like it is in many communities across America, we are not unique,” said Mayor Smith.
Council Members say the idea behind the safe outdoor space ordinance is meant to keep transients in one area so they have somewhere to go when they’re asked to leave city property.
Council is addressing homelessness with a park ranger to monitor the city’s jurisdiction, a co-responder program to better assist mental health calls, and prohibiting camping on city owned property, “This is a tool to solve homelessness, to get people off the streets, out of the parks, off the Riverwalk, and back to living productive lives,” Mayor Smith said.
Several local residents spoke out during the council meeting, voicing their concerns of safety: “Council Member Dennehy, you just said you don’t want it near your children’s school for the same reason we don’t want it in our backyard,” Mike Short said.
Council Members are also considering a temporary indoor housing option provided by local churches and non-profits: “Why do you want to do this for all these people when they are a drain on society, take that same money and let’s help the ones that we can help, the ones that want to be helped,” Don Burnett says.
The public’s overall outlook is, “What we are asking is to be heard, we need to do better with this ordinance and we shouldn’t pass this as is,” Short said.
Cañon City Council conducted public hearings at the first reading of the ordinance back in April. After another long night, council voted to kill the ordinance and start from scratch.