January 28, 2010
Colorado Springs police are giving some of the area’s homeless campers a one-way bus ticket out of town, but it’s not an attempt to sweep away the camps or dump their residents in another city.
Using money from the Salvation Army, the Colorado Springs Police Department’s three-man Homeless Outreach Team is buying tickets for campers who want to be closer to family or friends, and making sure they have a lifeline — a place to stay or a program to enter — at their destination. Since the program began Wednesday, the team has put three people on a bus with another scheduled to leave today, said Officer M.J. Thomson, one of the so-called HOT cops.
“People tell us all the time: They need to get home, they want to get home,” Thomson said. “It kind of comes out in conversation. We’re not offering people bus tickets just to get them out of here. It’s something to help them better themselves.”
The officers contact someone at the campers’ destination before putting them on a bus to verify that they’re not going to be homeless in another location.
“We call to make sure there’s a form of support on the other end,” Officer Dan McCormack said Wednesday at a meeting of social service representatives and others working with the homeless population. Officers also call to make sure the person arrived.
The Salvation Army recently received a $20,000 emergency grant from the El Pomar Foundation, and officials decided to devote $5,000 to buying bus tickets after hearing someone at a recent meeting on homelessness mention the need for such a service.
“We don’t have a solution to the whole thing, but that sounded like a piece of it,” said Bill Sisterson, business administrator of the Salvation Army in El Paso County.
Bus tickets have averaged around $150, Sisterson said. Destinations so far include San Diego; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Birmingham, Ala.
Officials estimate Colorado Springs has 300 to 500 homeless campers. Sisterson hopes 25 to 30 campers will take advantage of the service.
COMING THIS WEEKEND: Gazette reporters and photographers explore life in the homeless camps.