Larimer County sheriff wants to clean up ‘transient problem’

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith is on a mission to make the county less desirable for transients.

The county’s top law enforcement officer said many troubled homeless people have been flocking to the Fort Collins area for several years and many of them are ending up in jail.

Meanwhile, homeless advocates argue just because someone doesn’t have a home means they are part of the problem. The sheriff said he is specifically targeting transient criminals.

On June 30, Smith wrote a Facebook rant on the heels of the Heather “Helena” Hoffmann homicide. A homeless man has been charged in the case.

Outside Fort Collins’ Rescue Mission on Thursday, people said they are working through challenging parts of their lives. Others explained they are content roaming from place to place.

“Our goal is to really help those who are in need,” Hannah Baltz-Smith of the rescue mission said.

But Smith said, overall, the help provided by private and taxpayer dollars needs to be better managed.

“We have programs that act as magnets for transients to come here,” Smith said. “Part of it is the drugs.”

Smith said the jail population is up 50 percent in a three-year period. Most of the growth is coming from traveling transients with criminal records, he said.

“They’re committing crimes at absolutely disproportional levels,” Smith said.

Smith wants tougher city ordinances in Fort Collins to limit panhandling. He also wants resources directed at local homeless people down on their luck-- not those coming to Larimer County with troubled pasts.

But those working to bring people out of homelessness said the sheriff’s desires will not be easily implemented.

“They’re trying to push us out of town,” a Fort Collins homeless woman said. “They don’t want us here.”

Smith said he is committed to organizing citizen and business support to pressure Fort Collins leaders to crack down on what he sees as a transient nightmare.

What’s unclear, however, is when and if his ideas will become a reality.

Homeless advocates said it is difficult to pick and choose who is and is not worthy of receiving certain resources.

They aren’t convinced that picking and choosing will put an end to the sheriff’s concerns.