|Robert Dear's stationary RV in South Park (Colorado Springs Gazette)|
The real-estate developer cut roads across the cold, dry, and windswept pasture land east of tiny Hartsel and put up green-and-white street signs with names like "San Juan Drive."
And then no one bought most of the lots (except for some more scenic, hillier ones) because they were cold, dry, and windswept.
I used to drive by there a lot when I lived in Manitou Springs, now not so much. So I missed its transformation into a "gritty" community of "RVs, Tuff Sheds and nylon tents," as the Colorado Springs Gazette describes it.
The area came onto the media radar a year ago because Robert Dear, who shot up a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs, killing three people and wounding five, had been living there in a permanently parked motor home, "equipped with solar panels, a wood stove and a ramshackle fence encircling a storage shed, chickens and a yapping dog."
Shelters started popping up within the past five years, but the situation compounded with the so-called "green rush" after recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, many residents say. . . .It is a harsh place to live. The Ute Indians came through only in the summers, while the early ranchers picked sites with more shelter and water. (Hartsel is on one fork of the South Platte River.) Five acres out on the flats — I would not want to live there year-around. Gardening is out of the question. The hot springs at Hartsel, developed commercially in the 1870s, have been closed for decades, so you can't even go soak off the grime.
The explosion in emergency calls is fueled by out-of-control trash fires, faulty generators and embers dumped in the woods, among other hazards, officials say.
Getting to the emergencies can be difficult, because many lack addresses.
"A lot of them are societal dropouts. They just don't want to be a part of it," [Hartsel Fire Protection District Chief Jay] Hutcheson said.
We see this story played out elsewhere, and it's all "live free or die" until someone starts a forest fire. Or starts shooting. The "problem," if you define it as a problem — and should we? — is not homelessness in the ordinary sense, because people can buy little acreages cheap. (No utilities.) But then some of them turn into literal basket cases:
Two years ago, Hutcheson encountered a family of five living in a tent. While removing a woman on a stretcher, he said he "postholed in 3 ½ feet of snow" and fell backwards, fracturing a vertebra. "Surgery. Plates. Screws," he said in recounting the episode.The bureaucratic response, of course, is more regulation.
Other calls have brought his workers to places where people "are living in their own filth, with no sanitary precautions at all," he said.
Maybe if you want to go West and re-invent yourself, all that is left are places like this.