Development of Jefferson Park shuffles homeless population further into commercial areas

Karissa Miller

Jefferson Park, a popular gathering spot for the homeless population in Fort Collins, was decommissioned in October by the City, and the move could be pushing the population to gather in new locations throughout Old Town.

On Oct. 26, the Fort Collins City Council officially decommissioned Jefferson Street Park, allowing the space to be commercially developed.

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Jefferson Park was located on 210 Jefferson Street and was known to the public as a gathering spot for the homeless population for Fort Collins. However, city council recently decommissioned the property, and the decision could be pushing the homeless community to gather elsewhere. (Mike Berg | Collegian) Photo credit: Michael Berg

 

The park was located on 210 Jefferson Street and was known to the public as an active hangout and gathering spot for the homeless population for Fort Collins due to its location across from the Fort Collins Rescue Mission.

The homeless population has been protesting the development of the park for over a year, and often organized protests on the grounds of the park. The movement, “Occupy Jefferson Park,” began in August and September of 2015.

Prior its decommissioning, Jefferson Park also experienced protests against the camping ban in Fort Collins. Due to the little space in the Fort Collins Rescue Missions and the increasing cold, many of the homeless population in Fort Collins are forced to fend for themselves wherever they can find a spot in the community.

“I did sleep there a couple of times out of necessity, and I don’t want to say anything ill, but 90 percent of the people there were either passed out drunk, coming down off of something, or trying to sell or get drugs,” said Robert Grafsgard, a self-declared traveler.

Grafsgard has been in Fort Collins for some time now. He does not spend much time in shelters due to a previous negative encounter, and has resulted in his decision to spend his time wandering the streets trying to get by.

The City of Fort Collins has bans on not only camping in the parks, but also being in possession of alcoholic beverages or glass bottles, or residing on the premises of the parks between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Hannah Baltz-Smith, of Fort Collins Rescue Mission, said that the shelter has not seen a change in the amount of people looking for a warm meal or bed out of the cold since the decommissioning of the park. The shelter serves around 150 meals a day and provides shelter for 80 people every night.

“We have noticed, however, a change in where people experiencing homelessness choose to gather,” Baltz-Smith said. “Since the park is no longer accessible, people are congregating in the public right-of-way, on benches and other locations in the area.”

According to Mike Calhoon, the director of parks for Fort Collins, the property of Jefferson Park was sold by Union Pacific Railroad, which prompted the City to decommission the park.

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The City will no longer allocate funds and resources to maintain the park, according to the City of Fort Collins website. Jefferson Street Park has been in the City’s park system since 1973 when the property was leased from Union Pacific Railroad.

While the City faced criticism for the decision, Calhoon said the City maintained the right to decommission it due to the park’s history.

“After we explained that the park had been leased from the railroad since the 50s and the sale of the property had deed restrictions for use as a park, then I believe folks understood that this is now private property,” Calhoon said.

However, some homeless advocates and those who identify as homeless said they believe the decision was based on increasing Fort Collins’ attractiveness.

“I really don’t care what they’re doing to (Jefferson Park), when they’re doing it, or the results,” Grafsgard said. “But, what bugs me is that I’m pretty sure (City Council) did it just to get us out of there. I think it was a pretty underhanded thing for the City to do.”

The City of Fort Collins Parks Department has removed City property from the location including signs, benches and other items.

For more information about the decommissioning of Jefferson Park please call the Parks Department at 970-221-6660 or visit fcgov.com/parks.

For more information about how to get involved with the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, details can be found on their website.

Reporter Karissa Miller can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @KarissaMiller17.