Chronic homelessness, childhood poverty, a doctor shortage, a lack of public health spending, lagging services for the disabled, a high suicide rate and deteriorating roads and bridges are key factors hurting the quality of life in El Paso and Teller counties, according to a new survey.
Those “red flags” were key findings in the 2011 survey of Quality of Life Indicators of the Pikes Peak Region, the fifth annual analysis by a volunteer organization dedicated to providing an “unbiased, objective compilation of facts and statistics” about the area.
But all is not grim. The report’s 21 red flags were balanced by nine “gold star” findings including the region’s low cost of living, higher level of adult education, steady military growth, commitment to bicycling opportunities, declining traffic accident rate, tourist activity and residents’ “more accepting” attitude.
"The report tells us where we are," Mayor Steve Bach said at its release Friday. "There is a lot of good in it and there some things that ar every concerning. Now it's up to us to take action."
He singled out one red flag -- our aging population -- spells trouble for several reasons: seniors don't spend as freely as younger people causing sales tax revenues to drop and they need more Medicaid assistance, putting a strain on government services.
"The solution is going to have to come from within," Bach said. "Government is not going to be able to solve these issues alone. It's going to take everyone stepping up, every citizen, every organization. It's not going to be government that gets it done."
Bach used the report as a rallying cry.
"Let's take action on these issues," he said. "Let 's find solutions."
The findings are meant to serve as a catalyst for community-wide conversations about issues facing the region, said Dave Munger, neighborhood activist and a member of the QLI steering committee. He said the report reflects no political agenda, only the cold-eyed evaluation of volunteers who served on the “vision councils” that examined particular areas of community life.
“It’s true, we continue to be presented with problems that are enduring,” Munger said. “And we’ve identified that in the report.
“But we’ve also identified some areas where we continue to look pretty good.”
And that’s the point.
“The purpose of this is not to tell ourselves we are perfect or the greatest place to live,” he said. “We are trying to present an unbiased factual statement of the quality of life in the region.”
After five years of surveys, Munger said the QLI is beginning to be recognized as a place to turn for straight-forward data and analysis.
“QLI wants to participate in discussions led by our elected officials,” Munger said. “Our principal goal is to become the respected source of unbiased and significant information about our region so decision-makers and the voting public can identify the challenges we need to address, prioritize the challenges that need to be met and mobilize resources, including tax monies, to meet those challenges.”
After five years, QLI is beginning to identify trends in the economy, business climate and behavior, government programs, social behaviors and more, he said.
Broadening the survey to include more of the region was an important step, Munger said.
“Now it truly reflects the Pikes Peak region,” he said. “It’s much more inclusive and descriptive of both El Paso and Teller counties as opposed to just the city predominating it.
“This year’s report recognizes we’re all in this together and that the Pikes Peak region is comprised of a variety of governmental and residential areas. We’re trying harder every year to be more inclusive and present a representative picture of our complex area.”
Another steering committee member, Susan Saksa, executive director of Leadership Pikes Peak, said the reason so much effort is put into measuring the quality of life is not to point out flaws. It's to show people areas for improvement.
"What gets measured, gets improved," Saksa said. "We need to come together around these action items."
Perhaps the report’s greatest value, Munger said, is showing how all the issues are interconnected.
For example, reading the 132-page document, it becomes evident how the lack of jobs, a poor public transportation system and suburban sprawl contribute to homelessness, greater childhood poverty, abuse and neglect.
“Clearly, the number of homeless individuals and families is growing,” Munger said. “We’ve got to mobilize to address that. There are more children living in poverty. That’s going to affect our long-term quality of life. Children who don’t get fed enough, do worse in school. As adults, they have a harder time getting employed and being productive in life.
“All these things relate to our future. We’ve got to take these things seriously. We have to identify solutions.”
Here at gazette.com and in Saturday’s Gazette, you’ll find detailed reports exploring five key red-flag areas in greater depth.
What you won’t find is a lengthy examination of economic factors such as the lack of jobs and poor economic growth. Those are national issues and there’s little the local community can do to change them.
In addition, our coverage of increased reports of child abuse, neglect and fatalities will be presented in an extensive future report.
The Gazette's coverage is envisioned as the beginning of a community-wide discussion of the challenges facing the region. The Gazette, as always, invites reaction and debate on our comment boards at gazette.com and on our Facebook page.
And Munger said that’s exactly what QLI wants.
“We’ve got to have community conversation,” he said, “in order to have a community solution.”