Tensions have been growing in some mountain communities along Colorado’s Front Range, between homeless people who have sought shelter on public lands, and residents of the area who are fearful of the possibility of wildfires and upset about trash in unofficial camping areas.
While there is a lack of data on the actual number of people who have made the public lands their home, outreach workers say they have observed increasing numbers in recent years. Many point to camping bans in Front Range cities as a reason that more people are moving up into the woods.
“Nederland in the summertime is where people land who have been swept from many places.” — Hansen Wendlandt, Pastor of the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church
Hansen Wendlandt, Pastor of the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church, has been working with the homeless community in the area for several years and he says people who have been homeless in urban areas have a very different experience when they come to the woods.
“When homeless folks come to the mountains, they don’t typically understand camping, they don’t understand fire risk, wildlife, weather changes, where to get sanitized water, what to do with their waste, they don’t have that experience.”
The church is part of the new Summer Homeless Advocate for Residential Encampments (SHARE) program, a seasonal outreach pilot targeting adults experiencing homelessness who choose to camp on lands near Nederland. SHARE provides the tools and education needed for those new to camping like how to get sanitized water and proper disposal of waste.
Wendlandt says that while he understands the concerns of many residents in the community, he often sees blame for issues like trash in the woods and wildfires placed unfairly on the homeless community. “The most vulnerable in any society get blamed for the most.” In addition to providing support for those camping in the woods, Wendlandt hopes the SHARE program will be able to gather data on how many people are actually being impacted. “We’re going to do our best to count who we reach, and who accepts our help and who accepts education. Data collection is super important so we can establish best practices and share that with the rest of Colorado, and help Durango and help Colorado Springs.”
Questions about the SHARE program can be directed to Hansen Wendlandt, Pastor of the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church, 210 N. Jefferson Street, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 303-258-3579.
Listen to the entire interview here: