CHEYENNE — A curfew on the city’s homeless population camping in the Crow Creek area is a move some local businesses welcome.
Cheyenne City Council gave final approval Monday on a curfew for homeless encampments. In a 9-1 vote, the council passed an ordinance that says homeless people in one of the capital city’s largest camps can’t be there from midnight to 5 a.m.
Floyd’s Truck Center directly borders Crow Creek and its adjoining walking path. Jerrid Wiles, service manager at Floyd’s, said the homeless population in the area has grown a lot in the two and half years he’s been on the job.
“It’s been bad,” he said.
Floyd’s has four properties in the Crow Creek area that he said homeless people walk directly through. Wiles said there have been a number of attempted break-ins at their facilities, at least some made by homeless people.
Wiles is optimistic the ordinance will make a positive difference.
“Hopefully, it deters them a little bit,” he said. “It sounds like a pretty good plan.”
Not A Total Ban
While firm, the final version of the ordinance was softened from a full-out ban on homeless camping to a nightly curfew in the Crow Creek area.
Council member Pete Laybourn said the ordinance will revitalize the Crow Creek area from its current status as a “problem” area of Cheyenne to an “asset.”
He referred to the homeless presence there as “a nuisance.”
“I think we are well on our way, and I think it is definitely a positive,” he said of the ordinance.
The revised ordinance came out of the city’s Public Services Committee, which recommended approval. The substitute ordinance was approved with a 9-1 vote Monday with Richard Johnson the only council member to vote against it.
Although Johnson didn’t speak at Monday’s meeting, he told Cowboy State Daily later that the ordinance could create enforcement and constitutional issues that could get the city sued.
Johnson said he would’ve preferred a citywide curfew to reduce the appearance that it is specifically singling out homeless people.
“That specific geographic locale could put us into a bind,” he said. “Whether it’s camping or curfew, it’s just another shot against the poor. It’s just another attack on the homeless.”
Council member Michelle Aldrich commended the neighbors who live along Morrie Avenue and Crow Creek for bringing the issue to the council’s attention. They have complained about the state of the creek area, which is filled with more than a handful of homeless encampments.
There have been allegations made of homeless people acting in an aggressive manner and defecating into the creek, substantiated by “significantly elevated levels of E. coli,” according to city reports.
Cathy Deister lives in the Trail’s End area, a neighborhood along Morrie Avenue and Crow Creek. Deister warned the Public Services Committee that the E. coli risk has serious downstream impacts for livestock that drink water downstream from the homeless encampments. She also said there are bags of trash filling the area.
Aldrich expressed optimism that the health and safety of the creek area will be improved as a result of the ordinance.
‘A Different Way’
At a Public Services Committee meeting last week, Deputy City Attorney John Brodie said there were concerns about the enforceability of a camping ban, which led to the curfew solution. He described the alternate curfew as “a different way” to approach the homeless issue.
“It applies to everybody,” Brodie said of the curfew. “It doesn’t matter if you own the mechanic shop or you’re just coming through town on your way somewhere else.”
Council member Mark Rinne asked Brodie if the curfew will just push homeless people to other parts of the city and create similar problems. Brodie admitted the curfew may do nothing to solve the problem.
Robin Bocanegra, executive director of the Cooperative Ministry for Emergency Assistance (COMEA) homeless shelter in Cheyenne, believes this will be the likely result of the curfew. She believes the ordinance would have been more effective if all camping was outlawed along Crow Creek.
“I’m not sure how this is going to change anything,” she said. “They keep moving the problem elsewhere.”
Those who violate the curfew can face up to six months in jail and an up to a $750 fine.
Bocanegra agrees the homeless situation by Crow Creek isn’t ideal, but the city isn’t providing any solutions for stopping it in the first place.
Right To Camp?
Homelessness has been a major issue for many big cities in the West like Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It has also spilled into more medium and small cities like Cheyenne over the last decade.
Homeless advocacy groups and researchers say a driving force behind the increase of homelessness is the decline of affordable housing.
Deister said she was threatened by homeless people while walking by and that she was advised by Cheyenne Police to avoid the area.
Deister believes homeless people are being given a right, not a privilege, to camp.
A federal court determined in 2018 that “the Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter.”
But Deister said the 13th Amendment contradicts this, and the fact that homeless people aren’t being given citations for squatting in the Crow Creek area shows the law is only being applied to those who can afford it.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.