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Nederland launches pilot program to address homeless campers

'Our Colorado' looks at issue of homeless campers
Posted at 9:08 PM, Jun 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-09 01:54:59-04

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DENVER -- People in Nederland say their most beautiful campsites are being trashed, and they point the finger at transients.

We've shown you the mess some people leave behind and the danger of campfires not fully extinguished.

This summer, though, a pilot program is trying to address those issues and more, and many are calling it a step in the right direction.

In the Mountain Man Outdoor Store, Sasha Thompson welcomes out-of-towners to Nederland with a smile and words of advice ("Watch out for the moose. They're not friendly," she told one customer with a smile.)

But there is a growing group of newcomers that she and many others in this small mountain town worry could change their way of life forever: homeless campers.

"It’s a big mix of people that come out here. Some families are really trying hard to get it together. They’re trying to find a job, they’re trying to find a place," said Thompson. "And then you have people who just want to come up here and party. They leave their trash everywhere, just make a mess and not be responsible and not take care of the forest and have no respect for the wildlife that live here or for the people that live here."

While detectives said the vast majority of homeless campers clean up their mess, the rest give them all a bad name.

"I guess the drugs and alcohol and domestic situations that occur at these campsites between couples, I think they're probably the biggest issue we have during the summer," said Nederland police detective Darragh O'Nuallain. "We deal with a lot of abandoned and trashed campsites. They become biohazards. Some of our more beautiful spots (are) just getting taken over literally and then abandoned several weeks later when the weather changes." 

It has become such an issue, Nederland has an Interagency Council on Homeless Encampments, which is now launching a pilot outreach program called Summer Homeless Advocate for Residential Encampments (SHARE).

Boulder County is funding a part-time worker to go out and teach homeless campers about everything from campfire management to dealing with waste, water purification and wildlife. The outreach worker will also provide information and connections with homeless services now available with the Homeless Solutions for Boulder County program.

People in Nederland are quick to point out that transients camping started the Cold Springs Fire two years ago, and many live in fear that it will happen again.

Thompson feels at least SHARE is a start.

"That (the Cold Springs Fire) was pretty stressful for a lot of people, and this year is going to be a very dry summer because we had a horribly dry winter, so we're all a little bit on edge and a little bit nervous about fire hazards," said Thompson. "They’re here in our backyard, basically. So, if we can develop a way to communicate with them and interact in a way that’s more positive than detrimental then that's a step. It’s a step."