City’s homeless price tag: $500K

       At its informal meeting Monday, Jan. 25, Colorado Springs City Council is set to discuss the city's anticipated costs this year in servicing its several hundred tent- dwelling transients.
       The overall figure, while not precise because of clearly differing philosophies by the Police and Fire departments on homeless-camp impacts - appears to exceed half a million dollars.
       This amount combines three sets of city budget numbers that were provided to the Westside Pioneer after a request to City Councilmember Randy Purvis for the city's homeless costs. These three numbers are as follows:
  • Colorado Springs Police Department - $350,087.
  • City monetary assistance to eight different agencies that aid the homeless - $228,326.
  • Fire Department calls - $7,657.
           “I will make sure the numbers are noted at next Monday's discussion,” Purvis said in a follow-up e-mail. “I expect the aid to various agencies would continue because they address needs that are not specific to the homeless camps. The money spent by the police and fire departments is specific to the homeless camps and could be redirected to other needs.”
           The details for each amount is as follows:
  • Police - Budgeted salaries and benefits for 2.5 police officers that make up the Homeless Outreach Team ($237,500); police response to what's termed “downtown area transient calls,” which include parts of the near Westside ($36,400); Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful Contract for camp cleanups ($45,000 - which may need to increase $16,800 if the twice-monthly cleanups continue); half of a code enforcement officer's time, which is spent monitoring camps for sanitation and pollution violations ($31,187).
           The police report also states the following “hidden costs” - “loss of visitor and convention bureau clients because of the unsightly camps at a main entrance to Colorado Springs (I-25 and US24), cost of EPA violations for failure to control behavior contributing to pollution of waterways, command staff time to respond to 47 citizen complaints during the last two months, command staff time attending community meetings regarding neighborhoods concerned about the impact of this activity on their quality of life and home/business values.”
           The police report adds that the listed expense total “does not capture the true scope of patrol time spent responding to this issue - current data collection systems do not have the capacity to collect this information. It will be important to spend more analytical time studying this issue in depth.”
  • City monetary assistance to eight different agencies that aid the homeless - The agencies are Catholic Charities (Marian House Soup Kitchen, $56,613), Care and Share (Food Bank, $25,000), Colorado Veterans Resource Coalition (Crawford House, $5,000), Salvation Army (New Hope Center, $56,613; Children's Center, $8,100); Urban Peak (Teen Shelter, $17,000); Ecumenical Social Ministries (Rental Assistance, $10,000); Homeward Pikes Peak (Operating Support, $50,000). Note: The total of $228,326 is a drop from last year's $264,000.
  • Fire - A Jan. 20 memo from Fire Chief Steve Cox states that his department has responded to 222 calls since July 1 “where the narrative portion of the incident report included the word 'homeless.'” He elaborated that the majority of these were “medical incidents.” But he did not count these as homeless-related costs, arguing that “the need for medical response does not arise directly from the presence of the camps. Moving the homeless into shelters or other housing would not necessarily affect the number of medical incidents, but it would change their location.”
           Regarding fires, Cox's memo reports nine fires since July 1 that were homeless-related. These required 25 “person-hours,” which would translate to 50 for a year. He compared this total to one million hours of on-duty time for the whole department. “It is difficult to estimate the marginal cost of responding to these calls, but it is minimal - primarily fuel cost,” his memo continues. “If we take all labor and overhead costs into account, we could say that these fire responses cost $7,657, but this figure is composed almost entirely of costs that are fixed regardless of whether the CSFD responds to homeless camps or not.”

    Westside Pioneer article