Local homeless leaders 'confident' that city's problems won't keep worseningMarch 31, 2018
Two area charity leaders expressed confidence at a meeting March 29 that the homeless problem in Colorado Springs will not continually worsen.
They were Kristy Milligan, chief executive officer of Westside CARES; and Anne Beer, director of Homeless Programs at Peak Vista Community Health Centers.
Speaking as part of an ad hoc panel of charity representatives at an Avenue Task Force (ATF) meeting, they spoke in response to a question from the
Others on the panel, who voiced no disagreement, were Beth Roalstad, director of Homeward Pikes Peak; Eva Nunes, community information systems director for the United Way; and Ken Norwood, executive director of the Westside Community Center.
Such confidence in the future was endorsed afterward by Andrew Phelps, the city's homeless prevention coordinator, who also attended the meeting and told the Pioneer that in just one year “you will see a big difference.”
The ATF is an informal group, headed by Westside civic leader Welling Clark. It meets about six times a year in the Gold Hill Police Substation's community room, with involvement from elected officials, law enforcement officers, business owners and residents.
Clark emphasized during the meeting that the ATF goal was for people to work together in finding solutions. As part of that, he asked the homeless advocates to understand citizen concerns as the numbers of camps and “chronically homeless” street people seem to be increasing.
In addition to escalating city costs, problems include crime, business impacts, creek pollution and a sense of intimidation in taxpayer-supported amenities such as trails and parks. “This is a caring community, but people are getting frustrated,” Clark said.
Local charitable housing and service providers, mostly nonprofit agencies, work in coordination with the Continuum of Care, a city-supported umbrella agency for such efforts. Panel members at the ATF meeting explained the current Continuum philosophy, in which the top priority is providing housing - no questions asked.
The term for this is Housing First. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Housing First is “guided by the belief that people need basic
Milligan said a big reason why the city's problems are as bad as they are now is “because we didn't do this 10 years ago.” But now that this housing emphasis is in place, “I'm extremely confident” that the situation will improve, she said.
Beer agreed, adding that “I absolutely believe we are doing the right things.”
From a timeline standpoint, it has been four years since then-Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach announced the apparatus of the Continuum of Care and called for a 10-year plan to “end homelessness.” The Continuum produced the plan in 2016. A previous five-year plan from 2005 has since been discarded.
Phelps described the economic argument for Housing First. The public cost for dealing with the most needful of the chronically homeless - those requiring repeated emergency responder visits, typically due to drug or alcohol use - has been priced at more than $50,000 a person a year. But Phelps said that giving such people a permanent place to stay along with case management costs less than half that.
He acknowledged that such an approach draws criticism from some citizens because the recipients are not required to change their lifestyle choices (such as drug or alcohol use). From another standpoint, as Phelps has previously confirmed, because of civil rights concerns, even if people are homeless they cannot can be forced to move into such housing.
In Colorado Springs, the Continuum and charity nonprofits initially plan to build a total of 165 units in three locations. Completion of the first 50 units is expected in 2019, according to Phelps.
Asked for examples of cities where Homeless First policies have shown progress, the charity leaders at the ATF meeting mentioned Salt Lake City and Tulsa. A search online found sources citing progress - as well as continuing problems - for both cities.
Communities across the country are dealing with current federal interpretations of civil rights. One is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of homelessness that does not exclude those who refuse to accept help. Another federal interpretation was explained by Fred Stein of the City Attorney's Office at a recent City Council work session. He pointed to the Justice Department's support of a Boise, Idaho, court decision that homelessness is a "status," not a "behavior," and that enforcement otherwise violates Amendment 8 of the U.S. Constitution (as “cruel and unusual punishment”).
Law enforcement officials have separately noted that such interpretations affect their abilities to promptly remove camps or take actions against problem individuals as they might have in previous years when courts supported the interests of the community at large. An example is people who have been sentenced for illegal camping, who often claim they have no money to pay the fine. Court rulings have made it illegal to put them in jail ("debtors' prison"); and requiring any work (outside of community service) has been deemed "indentured servitude," explained Police Sgt. Curt Hasling at the ATF meeting.
At the same time, the homeless advocates at the meeting pointed out that they understand the impacts that the individuals they work with can have. Like her predecessor at Westside CARES (Steve Brown), Milligan said that she personally meets with neighboring businesses or residents in an effort to resolve complaints about actions by any clientele of the agency (which is located in the 2800 block of West Colorado Avenue).
In related meeting information, the charity leaders said they are putting together a system that would provide homeless people with a universal card that could also get them assistance in the Springs as well as Denver. However, in answer to a question, they said that obtaining the card is optional and will not be used for identity purposes. If it was used that way, "it would be like a scarlet letter on my shirt," asserted Roalstad of Homeward Pikes Peak. "I think it would be an infringement on my civil rights."
Westside Pioneer article