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Fort Collins considers lockers for the homeless, but not everyone's onboard

Posted: 9:31 PM, Jul 19, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-20 04:39:59Z

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- A passionate debate is raging in the City of Fort Collins over lockers for the homeless.

A church wants to give people a place to store their things, but some neighbors and business owners say the church may not be the right place.

As part of our commitment to look at multiple perspectives on issues that affect our communities, we go 360 on lockers for the homeless.

In Old Town Fort Collins, the issue of homelessness is clear to all, but what to do about it isn't.

Let's start with some context. 

Everything Andy Whittaker owns is in his backpack, which never leaves his sight. "It's heavy, really heavy," said Whittaker. "I got a job. I work, and I’m just trying to get back on my feet, and it’s just hard with a bunch of stuff, you know what I mean?"

He and others experiencing homelessness spoke out Thursday night in a Ft. Collins Planning and Zoning meeting saying a secure place to store belongings could help remove the stigma they have to carry everywhere.

"It would make a big difference because then I would have somewhere to put my stuff during the day, so I could go get cleaned up and pursue what I need to be able to get where I am trying to go," said Seth Temple, who is experiencing homelessness.

From another perspective, the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship has ministered to the homeless for years, which is why Pastor Steve Ramer has led the drive to bring 20 community lockers available 24-7 in the church's back parking lot. The lockers were donated to the church and are ready to go, but they are still empty awaiting approval by the planning and zoning board.

"Jesus speaks more about our need to take care of the poor more than any other moral issue," said Ramer. "It may not solve homelessness, but it’s part of the puzzle."

On the flip side, not everyone thinks the church, near homes and businesses, is the right place for the lockers. Safety was a main concern. Many in the meeting who were opposed to the idea reported already seeing homeless people in the area openly using drugs, leaving behind needles and harassing people.

"I have no issues with community lockers for our transient and homeless population," said Katherine Acott, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years. "What I do take issue with is having that installed at the church, which is at a residential area, having it accessible 24-7, having it not supervised. It's not a working model."

After months of debate, city staff did recommend approving the lockers, but with stipulations, including supervision and limiting the hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., similar to locker programs in other cities such as Berkley and Portland.

Pastor Ramer said those stipulations would effectively make it impossible for them to be used.

"Many people need to get access to their things before 8 o’clock," said Ramer. "And we cannot have someone there to supervise at all times."