Homeless

Look Out Below! Pueblo Developer Uses Drones to Film Homeless for TikTok Videos

A Pueblo man has been filming homeless individuals with his drone.
A Pueblo man has been filming homeless individuals with his drone. YouTube
Early last month, a new TikTok account called bad2thedrone began posting videos filmed with a drone that captured homeless individuals living outdoors in Pueblo.

The videos showed people living in tents in areas surrounded by trees, hanging outside of convenience stores and resting on park benches — people who were often caught on film responding to the drone.

One video, set to the Mortal Kombat theme song, included footage of a man living in a tent who flipped off the drone, then threw objects at it. Each time one came near, the drone would dodge the projectile and then get closer to the man, essentially taunting him. That video later ended up on the TikTok account's YouTube equivalent, BumsNDrones, with the title "Tarzan and Jane drone video, homeless prank."

The person behind the bad2thedrone TikTok account, which quickly amassed over 100,000 followers, is Henry Borunda, who frames himself as more of a documentarian than a bully.

"I'm trying to shine a light on how people are actually living among us," he says. "Virtually everyone living on the streets is hooked on drugs. Opioid overdose deaths have doubled since the start of COVID. That's because opioid addiction has doubled during this time. That is what is driving homelessness. Most people don't ever get a chance to see how street people are living. They drive by. Westword readers largely have no clue what life on the street is like. Largely, our homeless neighbors living among us are sick."

But Pueblo's mayor doesn't appreciate the public service. "I didn’t think the videos were appropriate. It looked to me like they were trying to antagonize them," says Mayor Nick Gradisar. "A lot of those people have mental problems and problems with alcohol. There’s no reason to torment them and make their lot in life worse than it already is."

Borunda was one of the first people to get involved in the recreational marijuana business in Pueblo. But in 2015, his dispensary's license was revoked by state regulators over multiple violations. He's now working as a developer, he says, purchasing buildings in downtown Pueblo.

"I started using drones to research growth and development potential. I was shocked, appalled and even saddened as I started to see how people are living on the streets of Pueblo," Borunda notes. "People should not be living like this. But also, as a developer, I don't think kids and families should be seeing people strung out and shooting needles in broad daylight. Ultimately, my goal was to inspire change."

A 2022 Point in Time count for Pueblo County, which includes Pueblo and such nearby municipalities as Boone, Rye and Avondale, documented 91 people staying in shelters and 50 people living in transitional housing. The count, which was taken on a January night, did not survey those living in unsheltered settings, such as the individuals captured by the drone.

Gradisar estimates that there are around 150 people living in fifty camps along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. "In squalid conditions, no doubt. I think the video depicts that pretty well," he says. "Like it or not, that’s where these people are living. The conditions, as I say, are squalid. I would hope people would recognize that or change that."

The City of Pueblo clears out the Fountain Creek encampments a few times a year in order to clean the area, according to Gradisar. A few weeks later, though, most of those who'd been living in the encampments return.

Borunda insists that his videos have received almost entirely positive feedback, including one featuring a man looking through a dumpster set to the Oscar the Grouch song "I Love Trash."

"Sure, some people find them entertaining," Borunda admits. "But locally, the discussion is bringing awareness to the real problem. Let's be clear: I want people off their drugs and breaking their addiction for selfish reasons. I am redeveloping Pueblo. But I also want them off the streets. It's not good for anyone."

While some of the comments posted on the TikTok videos praised them and even noted their comedic timing, others asked the videos' creator to simply leave people alone.

And TikTok eventually took action. A few weeks after the account was created, TikTok removed it for multiple violations of the company's community guidelines, according to a spokesperson who declined to identify which specific guidelines had been violated. Borunda's account on Instagram, bumsndrones, remains active, however, as does BumsNDrones on YouTube, where you can still see a video of two homeless men trying to shoot down a drone.

"Most of the folks living in the river bottom are heavily armed," Borunda says of that video. "One person dressed in paramilitary dress who is double-holstered started firing at one of my drones with two different handguns so he didn't have to reload. That was near a clearly stolen expensive mountain bike that was just loaded into the trunk of a junk car."

But Gradisar sees the situation differently. "I suspect that if you did that in anybody’s backyard where they were living in Pueblo, you’d get the same type of reaction," he says. "People would try to shoot it down or throw stuff at it to get it out of the air."

And the videos weren't just problematic for the TikTok platform.

Before TikTok removed the account, the Pueblo Police Department was looking into bad2thedrone. "The way I heard it is, he's hovering over them, seeing what they're doing and then hovering in front of them to irritate them," says Frank Ortega, a PPD sergeant and public information officer. "It can very easily be harassment, and then it can be some civil-type stuff, too."

Even so, no one had filed a complaint by the time bad2thedrone disappeared from TikTok, so Borunda's videos are unlikely to show up in Pueblo's courts.

The court of public opinion is another matter.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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