The biting Christmas chill and snow that swept through Colorado Springs this week might have been welcome to residents safe in their warm homes, but for the homeless it triggered a citywide scramble for the last spots in local homeless shelters.
For the past three days, the R.J. Montgomery Center run by the Salvation Army has filled each of the shelter’s 200 beds, and then some. With temperatures dipping well below freezing, the shelter has also become a “warming shelter” — it prepares 30 extra beds every night specifically for those seeking immediate shelter from the cold.
The shelter is but one piece of a warming shelter plan, set in motion by frigid temperatures every winter, that has a ripple effect across town. The plan, created by the city’s Office of Emergency Management, sets up a chain reaction for each of the city’s homeless shelters as they try to accommodate hundreds of homeless people looking for respite from the cold.
When temperatures drop, shelters adjust their hours, or add beds, to make way for more occupants. Typically, Urban Peak, a Colorado Springs homeless shelter for youths, closes its doors between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. But when the thermometer dips below 25 degrees, it stays open all day, said case manager Scott Correa on Wednesday.
The day after Christmas, the shelter’s 20 beds were full; any more youths looking for a warm spot to sleep were referred to the Salvation Army shelter, the next step in the plan to keep homeless people warm, Correa added.
“We’ve been running close to capacity now for a couple of weeks,” he said.
Correa expects that Urban Peak will remain full until the end of March, when “urban camping” will become more popular.
Starting at 4:30 p.m. at the Salvation Army shelter, 709 S. Sierra Madre St., people can sign up for one of the shelter’s 30 so-called cold weather spots, said employee Mike Lacy.
The spots must be vacated during the day, Lacy said, and the list is first-come, first-served.
The shelter can normally house 200 people, and by 5 p.m. Wednesday, there were already 180 people planning to call it home for the night. Lacy expected that the cold weather spots would be taken and that the shelter would reach capacity for the night.
The center went on “cold weather” status about a week ago, Lacy added, and it will keep the spots open as long as temperatures drop to 32 degrees or below.
When the shelter exceeds capacity — which it has yet to do this year — the Springs Rescue Mission down the street has 20 extra cots, said Montgomery Center Director Gene Morris.
Last winter, as many as 67 people used the warming shelter beds, so given the weather trends, it’s hard to say if its overflow plan will be put into action, Morris said.
Contact Ryan Maye Handy:â€¨636-0261