- Faith Miller
- Kashman Coleman, her boyfriend and sons enjoy the warm weather.
In a motel parking lot on South Nevada Avenue, a group of small children took turns shooting baskets in a miniature hoop, while parents smiled and chatted outside in the unseasonably mild March weather.
Just last year, the Stagecoach Motel was a place where visitors were charged a few hundred dollars a week to stay. Now, it’s El Paso County’s first low-barrier shelter exclusively for families with children. That’s thanks to nonprofit Family Promise of Colorado Springs and its partners in a collaborative of local organizations working to tackle family homelessness.
“Families who have come into intake were without shelter [living outside or in vehicles] prior to walking through our door,” says Executive Director Kat Lilley, “which is something that was heartbreaking to us, especially when we look at the vast majority of the children who are onsite are below the age of 5.”
“We actually saw really good success with the first 30 days of that transition, with three families moving into permanent housing, including a family of eight,” Lilley says.
Now, the shelter allows its residents to stay for two weeks, she explains, “to really just take a breath and try to move from that survival mode” and then start planning for the future.
After two weeks, families can either move on or decide to stay longer and engage in more supportive wraparound services such as case management and budget counseling.
Maximum stays are set at 90 days, as the facility is intended to be an emergency shelter. From there, families may have been able to save enough money for an apartment deposit (often two or three times the monthly rent) — or, they could potentially transfer to transitional housing offered elsewhere through Family Promise or a different nonprofit.
The shelter features 17 rooms for families of varying sizes. Most were full one week after the facility opened to the public.
For Megan Turner, who had been staying at the shelter since Feb. 27 with her boyfriend, 5-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter, it’s a perfect fit.
“We were paying $320 a week down there at the Sun Springs [Motel],” Turner says. “So yeah, being able to pay the weekly money for us is definitely going to get us back on our feet, for sure. This is definitely just a stepping stone for us and an amazing one at that.”
Turner says she plans to take advantage of Family Promise’s case management services so she can get better at managing money and not “get too complacent.”
Though Turner said her family was approved for a housing voucher through the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, they haven’t been able to find a landlord who will accept the federally funded voucher — which pays the difference between market-priced rent and 30 percent of a household’s monthly income.
- Faith Miller
- Megan Turner and son.
Another difference between the Salvation Army’s shelter and Family Promise’s: “It’s low-barrier,” Lilley says, “and so we’re not requiring sobriety. We’re not requiring even abstinence once they join the program if there’s substance abuse issues.”
Because the Salvation Army already has beds for single parents and kids, Lilley says that Family Promise is trying to prioritize dual-parent households. That said, if there’s not space at the Salvation Army’s shelter for a single-parent household, or if a family member has a disability or other issue that prevents them from staying there, they can still be accepted at Family Promise.
Family homelessness has been a persistent — yet hard to measure — problem in the region. The latest available figures on homelessness collected during last January’s Point-In-Time (PIT) Count show 131 unaccompanied youths and 137 families (households with at least one adult and one child) experiencing homelessness in El Paso County.
But many families aren’t counted by volunteers canvassing the area on a single night in January for the PIT Count, nor are they counted as staying in shelters or transitional housing. Hundreds of others may be staying with relatives, living in vehicles or hiding out in hopes of drawing as little attention as possible to their lack of permanent shelter.
As part of its 2019 Homelessness Initiative, the city sought to address that need by establishing a family shelter. Family Promise — which already offered transitional housing, as well as temporary shelter at places of worship through its Interfaith Hospitality Network — announced around a year ago that it had been recommended by other organizations to operate a new facility, and has received help from partners including Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.
The nonprofit is currently leasing the motel, Lilley says, and is launching a fundraising campaign to buy the building. First, providers wanted to get the shelter up and running.
Kashman Coleman and her family — her boyfriend, 7-month-old, 3-year-old and 4-year-old and — are another example of how such a shelter can provide respite from weekly motel costs that quickly drain a family’s resources.
They moved in on Feb. 28. Like Turner, Coleman was staying at the Sun Springs Motel on South Nevada Avenue earlier in February.
“I was walking from Safeway with the baby, and I just saw the sign and I just stopped in,” Coleman says. Before that, the family had been moving from motel to motel and struggling to keep up with the high cost of renting a room.
Family Promise provided a crib for her baby, Coleman says, and has helped the family with food.
“It gives you time to get on your feet and find something,” she says of the shelter.