FRISCO — A program that allows Summit County’s working homeless to have a designated place to park and sleep overnight was put up for discussion at a large workgroup meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco.
The workgroup included representatives from governments and businesses across the county, including county and town elected officials and staff, law enforcement, public health, environmental health, the U.S. Forest Service, faith and nonprofit groups, the ski industry and a range of other interested officials and stakeholders.
The push to get the overnight parking program implemented in Summit County was initiated and presented by Raychel Kelly, founder of homeless advocacy nonprofit Good Bridge Community. Kelly was joined in advocacy at the meeting by Summit Colorado Interfaith Council representative Dianne Luellen and Church at Agape Outpost representative Jeremy Frye. The church hosted a pilot version of the program in its parking lot this past summer.
The program allows a restricted number of vehicle dwellers who work in the county to park and sleep overnight in a designated location away from residents but close to bus routes. And it allows these people to sleep safely and legally, as overnight parking and camping is banned throughout the county and national forestland.
Future proposed parking locations would be plowed, have a bear-proof dumpster and a port-a-potty as well as access to resources available at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center. Permit applicants are screened with a questionnaire, must provide identification, pay a nominal monthly fee and are required to abide by an agreement that forbids campfires, fighting, littering and excessive noise. Periodic check-ins also are required.
Kelly said the program aims to give the working homeless in Summit a safe and secure place to sleep without being hassled by law enforcement or being forced to move every night. She also said concentrating members of that population in a single accessible area helps in providing resources and support to a mobile workforce that makes positive contributions to the community.
Every member of the workgroup who spoke agreed that the plight of the working homeless in Summit has been a growing issue for decades and that something had to be done to address the issue, if not necessarily solve the underlying economic realities of the problem itself. They also praised the efforts of Good Bridge, the Interfaith Council and Agape Outpost for taking steps toward a solution.
However, questions and concerns were laid bare by staff and officials from local communities. Silverthorne Police Chief John Minor, in presenting public safety concerns with allowing overnight parking, mentioned a recent incident in which two individuals and their dog were hospitalized after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning from leaving their car running overnight to keep warm.
Minor recalled other incidents, including another carbon monoxide poisoning for a vehicle dweller, and a trailer that blew up near Dillon Dam Road because of a faulty heater. He also mentioned concerns with drug use and possible violations of site plans and zoning. He said he and other law enforcement officials wanted to see those concerns addressed before an official program is implemented.
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said the workgroup meeting was a good start to get these concerns out into the open.
“We’re only in the enforcement business,”FitzSimons said. “What would help us is what is happening right here, with all the jurisdictions, towns, code enforcement and public health people here sitting down and trying to work out a program that works.”
Other concerns brought up by workgroup members included how public and environmental health issues would be addressed and regulated, such as wastewater management and preventing communicable diseases.
There was also the issue of politics, with different jurisdictions needing to have a cohesive common framework, including new legislation to clean up existing code and repeal prohibitions that would make the program impossible.
That would require a public legislative process, which can be time-consuming, as well as convincing the public to get on board with the program, which in some cases could require overcoming existing stigmas and prejudices against the homeless.
The workgroup broke up after agreeing to continue the discussion.
After the meeting, Kelly and Luellen expressed satisfaction at the workgroup turnout and were optimistic about the program being approved.
“There is a lot of interest in the program, and we still have a lot of issues on the table to resolve,” Kelly said. “I’m just very happy that so many people came with an open mind and an open heart, and that they’re willing to discuss and think through these issues for our future workgroup discussions.”
Kelly addressed the challenge of combating the stigma and stereotypes of homelessness, even though the program is meant for community members who work for a living.
“The truth will be discovered that our population has a couple of different types of people with different characteristics, but right now, it seems that mainstream society groups all homeless people into one big lump of ‘homeless,’” Kelly said. “We have nonworking homeless as well as working homeless, and the working homeless have so many different groups within them. There are people coming out of jail or coming out of recovery or leaving a physically abusive situation. They’re all different people with different experiences, and they need different resources.”