Locker programs will continue with new operating restrictions

Samantha Ye

Nobody really won at City Council last night, as neither appellants nor program leaders got the decision they wanted for homeless lockers in Fort Collins.

The appeal to overturn approval for the 24/7 homeless lockers run by the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship, was unanimously rejected, while the locker project itself was hit with the three additional operating restrictions it had skirted at a previous hearing.

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The new guidelines are:

  1. Lockers must be supervised at all hours of accessibility.
  2. Lockers may only operate between the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  3. Locker staff must restrict locker access outside of hours of operation.

The FCMF, who runs the project on their property at 300 E. Oak St., must abide by these conditions.

This decision creates a sharp change in the project which has been operating with minimal supervision and 24-hour access for the past three weeks.

Locker manager Michael Ranieri expressed a mix of happiness the project was not shut down, but disappointment at the operating restrictions.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now,” Ranieri said. “But it’s self-evident (Councilmembers) don’t see the full picture of this situation, which is maybe the most unfortunate part of it.”

The Planning and Zoning Board had previously approved the locker project in July on the single condition FCMF install a security camera with a seven-day backup to monitor locker activity.

The decision was appealed in August by 47 residents and business owners in the neighborhoods around Old Town Library.

In a summary of their position, appellants alleged the P&Z Board failed to properly consider the health and safety impact of the lockers, among other violations, and asked Council to overturn the Board’s decision.

Brett Olsen, the attorney who spoke on behalf of the appellants, said the lockers would cause a slew of “negative externalities,” including sanitation and safety issues, increased noise and confrontations, and a strain on limited public services. Asking the neighbors to “bear that cost,” Olsen said, is just “bad public policy.”

Brian Connolly, attorney representing the appeal opposition, and FCMF pastor Steve Ramer asked Council to reject the appeal and allow the locker program to continue with the limited operating conditions.

The locker support side used many of the same arguments for the program as they did before and at the July hearing. This included statements that the fears of lockers causing safety issues are unfounded and any supervisional or time requirements would be unfeasible and harm the project.

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In regards to safety concerns, there has been a significant increase in police calls in the area around the church, not including the library, said Kevin Cronin, assistant chief of Fort Collins Police Services.

While the area has averaged four-to-seven calls every 30 days for the past year, since the lockers have been put to use, the calls have jumped to 18. Many of the calls were for camping, drug-related issues and bodily waste, leading to some warnings, arrests and tickets. Cronin said this was only the first 30 days, however, and might not be a good trend to rely on. It is also not clear if those called on had any relation to the lockers.

“If you’ve got 18 calls in one month, something is not being monitored,” councilmember Ray Martinez said.

City staff’s research of other comparable but larger homeless locker programs across the country suggested constant supervision and limited hours were critical to success.

Supervision would likely just mean someone is on church property to immediately address any concerns which arise, councilmembers said.

The original suggested hours of operation were 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but Council moved the start time back when member Ken Summers noted that some locker guests may not be able to access the lockers before work. A request from Connolly to move the end time to 10 p.m. was rejected until the Council sees further data on the locker usage.

Council motioned to keep the locker program but with the added conditions. All six members present approved it.

Ramer said he was disappointed but the program would definitely continue since they have already situated several guests in lockers.

Ranieri said the new time limitations would definitely adversely affect the current guests. He is also not sure how a church of roughly 60 members will be able to handle 14 hours of daily locker supervision, especially without any City funding.

“What are our next steps going to be? It’s basically impossible,” Ranieri said. “I don’t understand how they’re expecting us to possibly start supervising this place all day.”

But, like Ramer, Ranieri is certain the locker project will continue. He hopes to install the full 20 lockers before winter sets in.

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.