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This Old House

Colorado Springs woman loses home to the wrecking ball



Shirley Mathis is about to be homeless, and she gives the city no thanks for that.

Mathis is one of dozens of people who have been forced to move out of the Mill Street neighborhood south of downtown to make room for a homeless shelter, a child-care center and a railroad spur for the Martin Drake Power Plant.

The 46-year-old Mathis is the last to go; all of the old houses on her block and on the next street over are empty, their owners gone. She is having a hard time letting go -- and an even harder time finding a place to move.

When Mathis' father and mother bought their house in 1958, the tiny four-room bungalow cost $3,000. Then, they decided they wanted more room. They added on a kitchen, three more bedrooms and a second bathroom. Then they decided they wanted even more room and added a family room.

"They kept building and kept building," Mathis said as she gives the grand tour of the now-sprawling structure that she has called home since she was 4 years old. "This is the history of the house."

Two of Mathis' five siblings were born in this house, but Mathis was the only sibling left living in the family home. Her three sisters and two brothers were pleased when they were offered $21,000 each for the old house. But Mathis didn't want to sell.

The city has given her until May 1 to move. She has nowhere to go. Mathis is disabled and earns too much to qualify for low-income housing, yet her share of the money from the house isn't enough to buy her another place anywhere in the city.

On a short driving tour of her old neighborhood, Mathis points out where clusters of homes used to stand. "Over there, there were four houses and another big house; they tore all that down," she points. "There was a church over there; that's gone now.

"This was a home over here, but the utilities tore that down and built a parking lot," she said. "Utilities doesn't care. Utilities doesn't care."

The city-owned utility department bought Mathis' and her neighbors' houses to build a railroad spur that will give them more room to haul in coal. But then -- after they bought the houses -- the utility company changed its design plans, and didn't need the houses after all. The city plans to tear them down anyway.

And actually, the city only plans to keep the Drake Power Plant open another 10 or 15 years at most. Then they will move to another site.

"Don't faint," Mathis warns as she pulls up to a house a block away from her house. "I'm going to show you what they tried to move me to." The house is smaller than hers and has holes in the walls. The utility company told her she could move into this house -- which they paid someone else to move out of -- for two to four years. But Mathis is grieving the loss of her family home, and is inconsolable.

"I told them I wouldn't take their raggedy house," she said.

If Mathis can't find a permanent place to live by May 1, she will put her possessions in storage and stay with a friend. Her roommate -- a day laborer -- will likely have to move into the Red Cross Shelter.

"The Mayor and the City Council, they don't care," Mathis said. "They're living in big houses in the Broadmoor and in Woodmen Hills and, you know, I never dreamed to live like that. I'm living my own dream right now."

A dream that is about to end.

"The only thing I can do now is speak up -- and fight for other people who need housing."

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