Pocket that beggar handout – truly destitute have broad help network

       Many people, especially in the holiday season, worry that without “spare change” the panhandlers they see on the streets might not survive.
       For such compassionate folks, ready to give greenbacks to sad-eyed, sign-holding citizens, it might come as a surprise to learn that Colorado Springs has a broad network of nonprofits, churches, hospitals and other organizations geared to down-and-outers. In most cases, these entities are supported by private donations. Often there is no charge for services, and in many cases no questions are asked.
       Help includes shelter (11 places in all), food (5 that give hot meals and 10 that give groceries), clothing, legal aid, health care (also eyeglasses and prescription assistance), pregnancy needs, dental treatment, mental health counseling, utilility bill payments, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and even health care for pets.
       These resources are capsulized in a 16-page directory titled the “Colorado Springs Survival Manual.” The 2012 version was published last March, with monthly updates available at homelesscs.org, according to Matt Parkhouse, an area nurse who started the manual and prints a new version annually.
       Augmenting the document is the United Way's 211 number. Dialing it brings up a “referral hotline” (in English or Spanish), with “up-to-date information and MANY more referrals than in this leaflet,” the manual states.
       In a section titled “You are not alone,” readers are told, “If you are needing this help for the first time, it is REALLY helpful to work with a case manager. These people can help you locate, access and use these resources in the best manner. You can find case managers at E.S.M., Salvation Army Shelter, Marian House Soup Kitchen and Community Action Agencies. Please, if all of this is new to you, there IS help out there! Leaving the streets is largely up to the individual person - many of our services offer 'help' that can be used to either EXIT the streets or STAY ON them.”
       Some offerings are specific to age (senior or youths), gender or past military service.
       Agencies giving help on the Westside include Westside CARES, the Billie Spielman Center, the VA Homeless Veterans Program and Silver Key Senior Services.
       A recent example of the caring level in local organizations can be seen in a Salvation Army appeal to the community - labeled “urgent” - noting that it was short on desserts for the annual Christmas meal it offers at three locations in the metro area.
       People in need do not need to fear the police (unless perhaps they have warrants out against them). The CSPD has designated three officers as the Homeless Outreach Team, who “are assigned to work with the homeless… to help get them off the streets,” the manual states.
       Parkhouse's directory also lists nine programs “to help homeless people acquire the skills and resources to escape the unhealthy homeless lifestyle. Most, if not all of these, make the assumption that substance abuse and/or mental illness is a big part of the problem.”
       Concerns about such abuse with panhandlers have been emphasized by the Avenue Task Force, a leadership group of Westside business people and residents working with area law enforcement. The task force is developing a publicity campaign urging people not to give money to beggars, based on findings that most such handouts wind up being used to buy drugs or alcohol, which can lead to crime or expensive emergency-vehicle trips to hospital emergency rooms. Also, some panhandlers aren't even poor. Seeking money can be a well-paying “job.” The best compassion is to give to the agencies that help the needy, task force leaders say.

Westside Pioneer article