There are no surprises in the latest head count of the homeless population in El Paso County: The numbers are up.
"The economy is a major factor in this year's increase because otherwise, we've been making good progress in getting people in programs," Anne Beer, director of community information systems for Pikes Peak United Way, said Wednesday.
Officially, according to a point-in-time census the agency conducted Jan. 27, the county has 172 more homeless people than two years ago.
Unofficially, there are at least 500 more homeless people than in 2007, according to an expert's estimates.
But a new self-sufficiency center, which has its grand opening Thursday, is expected to help alleviate the growing ranks of the poor by providing multiple services in one location.
The Hanifen Center at Marian House, which Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs operates, has programs covering housing, employment, life skills, education, mental health, medical care, transportation and childcare referrals.
Case management, emergency assistance, community outreach and specialized programs for families with children also are available, as is the new Marian House Soup Kitchen, which opened a year ago and is attached to the self-sufficiency center.
"We have a much greater need now for services to help those who are homeless because of a crisis," Beer said.
The January count, which the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires every two years as part of its funding process, showed that 1,249 people living in cars, tents, emergency shelters and transitional housing used local homeless services, such as soup kitchens, on that day.
In January 2007, when the previous local census was taken, there were 1,077 homeless people using services, said Beer, who is still compiling some of the results of the most recent survey.
The majority of local homeless are white males, the census shows, with one-third being females. Another finding: the chronic population, those living on the streets for an extended period, has decreased to 188. In 2006, there were 294 chronic homeless. Beer attributes the decline to programs such as Housing First, which allows chronic, mentally ill and addicted homeless to enter housing and still drink alcohol.
However, Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, an umbrella organization that coordinates services for the homeless, estimates the chronic homeless population at 500. He also believes there are an additional 2,000 homeless women, children and families who have no permanent place to live because of job loss, foreclosure or other catastrophe.
Two years ago, he said, the region had 400 chronic and 1,600 families and children.
"What's very sad is that there are more entire families, from the middle class, that aren't able to make it, so we're seeing more young men with spouses or partners and kids," he said.
Holmes said his estimates differ from the census because it's difficult to count those living under bridges, in homeless camps or other outdoor sites. And many displaced people live with relatives or friends and do not use local services so are not part of the formal survey.
Beer agrees that the point-in-time count is not entirely accurate.
"We're quite sure the population is higher than we have the ability to count," she said, "because many don't come in for services every day or hang out in the foothills, caves and creek beds, where we don't go to count. Also, a significant amount don't meet the HUD definition of homeless but are truly homeless."
In addition to HUD funding, which amounts to $1.7 million this year for local agencies, the homeless census numbers are used for grant applications and to determine which local services need to be expanded, Beer said.