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Homeless center or affordable housing which is needed more?

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To the Editor:

The Montgomery Community Center (a collaborative service center proposed for homeless and at-risk citizens in Colorado Springs) is not meant to "destroy a neighborhood" but to enhance a community -- our community. It is a vision crafted over the last three years by human service providers who work daily with homeless citizens in Colorado Springs. This is a vision born of experience, compassion, dedication and the specific needs of our city and county. It represents the best efforts of our community's finest and most knowledgeable human service professionals. This is not a group of individuals that would ignore the needs of a neighborhood, let alone set out to destroy it. For example, the Montgomery Community Center partners have already committed to providing the neighborhood with an ongoing improvement and repair fund to assist with needed home improvements in the neighborhood. Private security patrols have also been offered in the immediate two-block area across from the proposed center, at no cost to neighbors. Neighbors have also been invited to assist project partners in developing programs and activities that would create a true community center in the Mill Street neighborhood.

For decades Colorado Springs has turned to agencies such as the Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Community Health Centers, Pikes Peak Mental Health, Ecumenical Social Ministries, and the Salvation Army to address the needs of its most vulnerable citizens. These agencies have always been willing to step forward and address Colorado Springs' most difficult challenges. Now the difficult challenge lies squarely on the shoulders of this community.

On Nov. 14, the Colorado Springs City Council will be asked to determine the future of homeless services in our city by either approving or denying the development plan for the Montgomery Community Center. Project partners have put forth their best effort and are now turning to the entire Colorado Springs community to voice its support for the Montgomery Community Center. This is a chance for Colorado Springs to support innovative and progressive collaborations that will help vulnerable citizens regain self-sufficiency and become contributing members of this community.

-- Debbie Mitguard

Program Manager, Montgomery Community Center

American Red Cross, Pikes Peak Chap.

To the Editor:

If I had 5 or 6 million dollars would I build a mega-homeless complex in the Mill Street neighborhood?

Probably not. There are greater needs. Why spend 6 million dollars for a shelter, soup kitchen and clinic complex when we already have these services? A newly released study approximated 2,000 homeless and at-risk homeless in our town. About 80 percent of the homeless cited lack of affordable housing as the cause of their homelessness. (We paid $30,000 for that piece of information!) Their numbers, though inflated, clearly demonstrate that Colorado Springs needs more affordable housing not bigger soup kitchens and shelters. Besides, building shelters and soup kitchens for at-risk people is like building prisons for at-risk children.

The actual number of really homeless persons (i.e. people without houses) is declining. However, the number of persons paying 50 percent to 80 percent of their income for housing is increasing. For example, a large percentage of those eating at the soup kitchen are not homeless but are among those who must choose between a roof over their heads and lunch.

Furthermore, homelessness and hunger should not be made permanent parts of our economic landscape. I was always happy that the soup kitchen was in a temporary building. We should serve soup out of a tent, not permanent buildings. Our prayer is that tomorrow we won't need shelters and soup kitchens.

Moreover, no neighborhood wants such a behemoth of social services. This does not mean that neighborhoods are anti-homeless or heartless. They have a point. To build what may be the largest consolidated homeless project between the Mississippi and the West coast in our town, let alone in one of the smallest, poorest, neighborhoods is disproportionate to both. Colorado Springs cannot jeopardize, let alone destroy, another viable working class neighborhood.

The new shelter proposal insists that consolidated services are better services. Actually, many recent trends are toward the "smaller is better" philosophy. The city housing authority, for example, "scatters" affordable housing units so many neighborhoods share the affordable housing challenge. Big cities tear down huge, unmanageable housing projects. Years ago, as the director of the soup kitchen, I advocated that Colorado Springs have ten soup kitchens, each one serving 35-40 people, rather than one big one serving 350 or 400. What is economical in the marketplace is not always economical in social work.

Before we put another neighborhood at risk with a bad social experiment and spend money for what is not needed, let's give the idea some more thought.

-- Stephen Handen

Colorado Springs


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