After months of indecision, eight of nine City Councilors gave final approval Tuesday to ordinances that outlaw camping on city lands, giving police the power to clear out hundreds of homeless people living on urban creek banks.
Councilors said they were relying heavily on the word of city workers and experts, who said the new ordinances would be enforced with compassion. They also said homeless campers would be able to find shelter with local charities.
For instance, Bob Holmes, executive director of the umbrella homeless group Homeward Pikes Peak, has told Council repeatedly that there are plenty of beds. And yet every time Holmes has offered encouraging numbers, Patrick Ayers, leader of homeless outreach group CS Hope, has scoffed and said the opposite is true.
Council eventually decided to trust Holmes, its own expert. But the question lingers: Who was right? And what will happen when the tents — homes to around 350 people — come down?
One, two, three
The Indy contacted the 25-plus organizations known to offer shelter to the homeless. We asked how many total beds they had, how many were usually available, and who was allowed to use them.
The results? Yes, you can find "a bed" — depending on who you are.
For instance, there is no shelter currently available for people with pets. Very few places will take violent sex offenders — and only the El Paso County Detox Facility won't check. The C-C Boarding Home has the only available rooms for couples who want to sleep together. And nonviolent felons stand a better chance of finding beds than families with children.
There are more than 1,500 beds in the Springs, with an average of more than 660 "available" on a given day. That number pulls from all the charitable programs and shelters we could dig up, from beds for recovering alcoholics that cost $400 a month to free beds at the Salvation Army's R.J. Montgomery New Hope Center.
Of those 1,500, about 635 are short-term or emergency shelter, meaning they keep folks for three months or less.
Of the 635, around 565 are in the C-C Boarding Home, a new program that takes up to 200 rooms at the Express Inn on Cimarron and Eighth streets.
About 85 people are already staying there. They've agreed to get help from a "case manager" provided by Holmes and to actively seek a job. They've agreed to stay clean, though not necessarily sober. Couples are welcome, and can get a room of their own. Kids are also OK, but pets aren't. Holmes is taking felons, and even sex offenders, on a case-by-case basis.
But here's the catch: Residents can stay a few months, at most. Says Holmes: "This is to get people out, get them on their feet, and get them moving."
Truth be told, there's not enough money to do much more. Holmes is running this program with a $100,000 El Pomar Foundation grant. And if the boarding house is in high demand, it won't take long to exhaust those funds. If, for instance, every room was full, the money would be gone in under three weeks. Which would leave the homeless with few short-term options.
The New Hope Center has lately had about 30 beds available for women and children, and as many as 15 for men. The beds aren't for sex offenders, couples who want to sleep together, or active drug and alcohol abusers.
The other option is Urban Peak, but that's for youths 15 to 21. It usually has about 10 beds, but won't take couples who want to sleep together, active drug and alcohol users, or anyone with a warrant.
Now, in theory, there are other options: The Crawford House (veterans), TESSA (battered women and their children), activist Steve Handen's houses (homeless men), the Interfaith Hospitality Network (homeless families with children). But they average zero to two beds available.
As long as C-C's around, short-term shelter should exist for most homeless people. But for many, three months just isn't enough time to become independent — and there are only about 40 local long-term beds available, on average.
The free programs tend to be full.
• The Salvation Army has three transitional programs — with usually just one or two spaces available.
• Housing First, for mentally ill, chronically homeless people who are still using drugs and alcohol, is full.
• Pikes Peak Mental Health and the Crawford House offer vouchers for free housing, but the vouchers are long gone.
• Partners in Housing — with 70 units for families, singles, and couples willing to stay clean and sober and go through an intensive program — has been at capacity for well over a year.
• Liza's Place takes women who are homeless or coming out of prison, but usually only has a couple openings.
• Maternity of Mary gives priority to pregnant mothers, but sometimes takes women with kids. There's usually just one or two openings.
A few bright spots exist. Springs Rescue Mission is free and averaging four openings for clients willing to stay clean and sober. Greccio Housing has about four beds for single homeless adults with mental illness.
In the realm of pay programs, Harbor House takes chronically homeless substance abusers, but you need to give up to 30 percent of your income to the program — once you have an income. Pikes Peak Sober Living and Alano Recovery Homes are also for alcoholics and addicts, but they cost $400 a month. Urban Peak has eight apartments for youth, but they're usually full. (There, you pay rent, but get it returned to you at the end of your stay.) Family Life Services takes single moms with kids for two years, with a fee starting at $185 a month, but there's rarely an opening.
Bottom line: If you can get back on your feet in three months, you're likely to find the help you need. Any longer, you might be on your own.
More help on the way?
Before the camps clear out, several locals are trying to better the housing situation for the homeless.
Patrick Ayers' CS Hope is trying to set up a large shelter. The Black Pastors Union is establishing a program that could house dozens of men and women overnight. Up north, plans are in place for East of Eden, a working ranch that will teach the homeless agricultural skills.
And on South Nevada Avenue, Councilor Tom Gallagher says the owner of the old KOA campground has plans to partner with a nonprofit and create a new kind of Tent City. All the details of that plan aren't laid out quite yet, and there could be some hang-ups (the property is in a floodway), but Gallagher thinks the land could house 160 small trailers, 40 mobile homes, an acre and a half of tent sites, and a big bathroom, shower and laundry area. Rent would be kept very low.
But while any of these projects could prove to be a valuable resource to the homeless in the future, right now there's little certainty of exactly when they will open, if at all. Most plans are missing at least one major component: full funding, completed construction, management, etc.Homeless shelters and programs in Colorado Springs