Log In

Reset Password
Regional News

Grand Junction Council rejects tent ban, citing lack of alternatives for unhoused people

In September, city leaders abruptly closed a downtown park commonly used for camping
Metal barricades were erected around Whitman Park in downtown Grand Junction on Sept. 12, 2023. The park was a regular gathering spot for unhoused residents and is set for a future renovation. (Ryan Warner/CPR News)
Feb 23, 2024
Mesa County passes resolution declaring itself a ‘non-sanctuary county’

A resolution that would have banned tents in Grand Junction parks was denied by Grand Junction City Council, 5-2, earlier this week.

The proposal was part of a package of updates to city park rules, and the move follows months of local debate over how to accommodate people experiencing homelessness. Last September, city leaders abruptly closed a downtown park commonly used by the unhoused community, prompting backlash from the public and service providers. Another park is slated to close this month.

“If I was sitting as a lay person in the city, with the closure of Whitman (Park), with what's happening at Emerson (Park), it just feels like we're consistently, on a regular basis, trying to push people around,” City Council member Jason Nguyen said. “The other thing I want to push back on is this idea that the park can't be used when people are camping. I have a young son. I take him to parks all the time. Just because somebody's in a tent doesn't really bother me.”

Nguyen voted Wednesday to reject the resolution, joining council members Scott Beilfuss, Randall Reitz, Cody Kennedy and Dennis Simpson. Council member Abe Herman and Mayor Anna Stout supported the rule change. Some on the council said they would support the move, but only if the city introduced alternatives for residents experiencing homelessness. Advocates for the unhoused community say many people are forced to stay awake at night for safety reasons, so they use the shelters to sleep during the day.

“We need to have sanctioned camping, we need to have shelters, we need to have transitional housing, we need to have low-income housing, affordable housing,” Reitz said. “I think we've done a great job of expanding that spectrum, but where we have not done at all is the idea of finding a way for people to camp with legal status. And I think that's what we need to do. And so I will support this change if we're also looking at it in the perspective of adding the sanctioned camping at the same time.”

In the wake of the decision to close Whitman Park, the city convened with volunteer organizations to open a staffed day shelter nearby. Grand Junction spent nearly $1 million on the resource center, which opened in late January after several weeks of delays.

City staff said they reviewed policies of other cities ahead of the proposed rule change, noting similar policies in Ft. Collins, Boulder and Denver. But Beilfuss said comparisons to those cities were unfair.

“I also went and looked through the cities that you referenced and you conveniently left out that each of those towns … had alternatives for their homeless,” Beilfuss told city staff.

Stout disagreed, pointing to the recently opened resource center.

“We spent a million dollars to put a resource center up for people to have an alternative somewhere where they can go, where they can be safe, where they can rest,” she said.

A number of residents stayed until 11 p.m. to address the council on the issue. Zachary Drake said council members should focus on ramping up resources before taking away options for the city’s unhoused. He also disputed the notion that Grand Junction does not engage in “homeless sweeps.”

“I don't know what we would call closing Whitman Park if not a homeless sweep. I guess the only difference was that when Denver does their homeless sweeps, they actually house some of those people,” he said.

Wednesday night’s discussion applied to the use of shelters during daytime hours. Grand Junction instituted a camping ban in 2019, which it later extended in 2022. That prohibition only applies to residents camping when there is shelter space available.

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit www.cpr.org.