The bike path running behind 307 Rents in Riverton is a real party scene. Cigarette butts litter the 3-foot concrete wall separating the business and the path and leftover toilet paper flutters in the wind. Both are tokens of the growing vagrant population that drinks, fights and camps along the path and other public areas in Riverton.
“They pee right behind my shop back here, probably every other day when they’re camped out back here,” said 307 Rents owner Kirk Hawker, who rents his shop from another local.
Hawker said he’s found bloody human feces behind the business. His solution when that happens is to douse it with bleach and pressure wash it away.
The blood, especially, poses a health concern about blood-borne pathogens, said Hawker's wife Britnea, who is a nurse.
Larry Kusel of Kusel’s Furniture and Appliance has been having similar issues with people squatting between dumpsters behind his business, but things have improved since city workers last week removed the public benches that sat behind his Main Street business for years.
Kusel was more concerned about the elementary school situated about a block behind his store.
“There’s all these little people running around, and they have to watch this,” he said. “I’m sure (the moms) love bringing the kids down and having to watch this.”
Kusel, a longtime Riverton resident and business owner, said the vagrancy problem seems to have worsened in recent years. He speculated that many people can get by without getting jobs, and that enables them to waste their lives.
“It’s sad,” he said. “It’s very, very sad.”
This New Law
Riverton’s poop problem isn’t as bad as Denver’s, where an exasperated business owner dumped human feces on the steps of Denver City Hall this week, but it’s bad enough that the Riverton City Council could codify an anti-defecation ordinance by next Tuesday.
“The problem we’re trying to solve is people defecating on public and private property,” Riverton Mayor Tim Hancock said at a Sept. 19 City Council meeting, moments before the council unanimously approved the ordinance’s second reading. “I find it hard to believe, but I mean, that’s where we are.”
The ordinance adds defecation to a public urination ordinance already in place, which is punishable by a $750 fine.
Hancock told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that violators may be jailed briefly to ensure they make their court dates, and they may be jailed in connection with other crimes or warrants that police discover while confronting them about defecating.
“I do think having it available as another tool makes sense, rather than forcing our officers to consider charging people with littering,” Hancock told the council last week.
Bathrooms, Porta Potties
Hancock referenced pressure from local residents for the city to offer more public restrooms.
City Administrator Kyle Butterfield gave a list of public restrooms already available throughout town, to include multiple parks and the front entryway to City Hall.
The City Hall bathroom is only open during business hours, and the park bathrooms are generally closed during the winter because, even when they are heated, people will sometimes leave a door open and let the cold weather freeze the pipes, Butterfield told the council.
Some people have floated the idea of the city funding and maintaining port-a-potties.
Council members expressed doubts about the cost and feasibility of that idea.
City Council Member Dean Peranteaux said that even where public restrooms are available, people who use them often trash them and create health hazards. He related statements from an employee working at the Fremont County Public Library’s Riverton Branch — a hangout spot for Riverton’s vagrants.
“Someone goes in and makes it wholly unhealthy for anyone else to be using,” said Peranteaux. “So, I think addressing the problem is (going to take) more than just putting porta-potties out there.”
Wow, What A Fence
Jeremy Laird, owner of Top Notch Auto Spa and Designs, built a high fence between his shop and the bike path 10 years ago to ward off unsavory antics.
“It’s just nonstop. They’re back here fighting, screaming, passed out,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
People don’t usually poop or urinate on Laird’s property because of the fence, but there have been occasional issues, he said. Once a vagrant fell asleep under Laird’s horse trailer and when Laird woke the man so he could move the trailer, the man wanted to fight.
Last week, some people got into a fight next to that trailer.
“You can see the handprints on the trailer,” he said.
People left their car in Laird’s parking lot with beer bottles all around. Laird said he hooked up to the car, moved it out of the way and cleaned up the beer bottles.
Laird said he believes the public defecation ordinance may help, if authorities can use it to make people clean up their own messes.
“Yeah, they need to clean all this up,” said Laird. “It’s nonstop.”