Homeless camps make way into national forests

DIVIDE, Colo. — It’s no secret that there are dozens of homeless camps all over Colorado Springs.

Southern Colorado is dealing with an influx of people living a transient lifestyle.

Now those homeless camps are branching out into the national forests.

The US Forest Service said homeless camps are causing major problems for them. They’ve already seen peak numbers of people camping. Problems popping up because of homeless camps take them away from their other job of policing regular campers.

If you drive north on Route 5 from Divide for about 30 minutes, you’ll come across national forest land where a lot of people are setting up camp.

Jas Gay was one person up there camping. He also happened to be homeless.

Gay said he got sick from black mold in his old apartment.

After spending some time in the hospital, he couldn’t find an affordable place to live in the Springs, so he’s been homeless since January.

“Camping has been really just a saving grace of my life right now,” said Gay.

Now things have changed.

“The forest service guys have always been nice to me, but I hear hearsay that they’re running all the people who don’t have a permanent address out of the park, for whatever reasons, and I say leave the poor folks alone,” said Gay.

“It appears like they might be camping, but in reality it looks more like they’re setting up home in the national forest and you can’t do that. You can’t set up the forest as your primary place of residence,” said Pikes Peak District ranger Oscar Martinez.

The forest service has run into messy camps they attribute to homeless people that cost them around $1,000 to clean up, depending on the size of the camp.

“If they have messy camps, write them a ticket. If they don’t pay, take them to jail. If they don’t clean up, write them another ticket and keep on going. I don’t think the majority of homeless people are leaving messes at their camps just from what I’ve seen here,” said Gay.

The forest service said they’re not equipped to deal with the homeless on top of all their other responsibilities.

“I don’t know necessarily that I know what the answer is, or that I have the answers for what that looks like. What I do know is that we’re probably not the best point of contact for how and where we address that,” said Martinez.

“Help the homeless people clean it up and get their act together and let us stay. You know, we got no other place to go.  It’s not like I want to be here,” said Gay.

The reason this was such a big problem for the forest service is because the homeless camps aren’t just your typical trash. They found baby cribs and mattresses, which took a lot more time to clean up.

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