Springs seen as popular place to be homeless - one takeaway from 'Chat'Sept. 7, 2018
Despite strong emotions on both sides, no shouting matches or accusations erupted Sept. 4 when people charting the city solutions for Colorado Springs' homeless/vagrancy issues met with about
But it was evident that for the most part neither side wanted to talk about the same issues, and in the end there was no sign that anything had really changed.
The Chat, which was held in the meeting hall at the Buffalo Lodge motel and lasted about an hour and a half, was promoted by the Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO), a nonprofit with financial ties to the city that works with neighborhoods around the city.
It was the second of two, a week apart, held at the Buffalo Lodge and one of several CONO has set up geographically around the city in September and October. The first Westside Chat Aug. 28 had let people talk with local elected officials Tom Strand and Stan VanderWerf.
The Continuum of Care (CofC), a grouping of area social-aid nonprofits, has developed most of the city's current homeless policies, including a 10-year plan (2016-2026). The entity has been supported since September of last year by a city-paid homeless prevention coordinator (Andy Phelps).
He and four CofC representatives sat down in small groups and later stood in front of the entire room, talking about their work and fielding questions. During the stand-up part of the meeting, the CoC reps described continual work to improve how they assist those in need - or about to become so - along with their quest to provide affordable housing throughout the city.
Saying there's “a crisis in the community,” Westside Cares executive director Kristy Milligan summarized the goal of “empowering people wanting to make a
No attendees objected to these efforts, but it was clear that most preferred to address the increasing vagrancy problems on the Westside, frequently made evident by illegal camping, thievery, drug use, trash and residents not feeling safe on public trails or in their neighborhoods.
It did not brighten the attendees' outlook when Colorado Springs Police Lt. Michael Lux, who oversees a team of officers focused on the downtown and Westside, revealed learning of a survey at a recent, nationwide police conference in California showing that, with the services offered in Colorado Springs, it is perceived as the top place for people to go when they're homeless.
He also noted local-police observations that campers tend to be “older ones who like the lifestyle” and younger ones “who come through and then leave.” Both types, he added, “can be somewhat resistant to any kind of help.”
In general, as a 30-year member of the CSPD, Lux said he's seen the homeless influx “consistently growing each year.”
Statistics from the Point in Time Survey, a count organized through the United Way of people who say they're homeless, show that in 2009 the “probable true"
Phelps and Lux summarized the city policy regarding camping on public land. Even though it's illegal under a 2010 city ordinance, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling since then - spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) - has interpreted Amendment 8 of the U.S. Bill of Rights to mean that people cited for camping without anywhere else to go are victims of “cruel and unusual punishment.”
After the meeting, Phelps clarified that he likes the ACLU because “they care about people,” and is concerned that if the court's ruling were overturned, the country “might go to the right.”
To deal with the resulting legal restraints, the city has prioritized the addition of “low barrier” shelter beds (meaning drug and alcohol users allowed). Currently 370 are in the works, Phelps said. The goal is to have so many of these beds available that police will be unfettered in ticketing people who violate the city's no- camping law.
At one time, according to Matt Parkhouse, a meeting attendee who helped organize the city's first homeless assistance programs in the 1970s and '80s, all the city's rescue shelters were high barrier (requiring sobriety). The problem, as Lux explained it after the meeting, is that, based on the court ruling, if people who are found camping have problems with drugs or alcohol, then it doesn't matter if high-barrier beds exist, because those individuals can't use them.
So it is currently that high-barrier beds go untaken some nights; meanwhile, drunken/drugged people are allowed to camp because no low-barrier shelter beds are available for them, Lux summarized.
One meeting exchange was between Milligan and Chat attendee, Tim Tafoya, owner of Old Colorado City Surplus in the 2700 block of Colorado Avenue. Tafoya said that Westside CARES, located less than half a block away, attracts problem individuals by giving out coffee in the mornings, and “I have to roust them out.” On Fridays, when the nonprofit is closed, they're not around, Tafoya alleged.
Milligan responded that it's only a “limited coffee service” and that she herself is ready to respond to any problems she's told about. The main mission of Westside Cares is emergency help to poor families.
Before the Sept. 4 Chat, Sara Vaas of CONO had described its intent as "informing residents to be part of the solution."
Asked afterward, in a Westside Pioneer e-mail, if he had heard any Chat comments that might alter the current Continuum solution strategies, Phelps did not reply with a yes or no, but stated that “I am always open to feedback from our community on how issues surrounding homelessness are handled. I share in the frustration not only that some in our community have no safe shelter, but also in how illegal camps are negatively impacting our environment.”
Regarding the city's current push to create enough low-barrier beds to pass muster with the ACLU, the Pioneer asked Phelps for the city's fallback if those beds get filled. Create more beds?
Phelps did not say yes or no on this question either, but asserted that “homelessness is obviously complex in its causality. For example, I have no control over the economy, which directly impacts homelessness. As I have previously stated, the lack of affordable housing (including permanent supportive housing) is the 'elephant in the room' when it comes to homelessness rates in our community.”
Westside Pioneer article