Colorado Springs mayor announces $5 million plan to address homelessness

January 29, 2014 Updated: January 29, 2014 at 10:27 pm
photo - Mayor Steve Bach is seeking to expand homeless outreach programs and increased affordable housing options. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Mayor Steve Bach is seeking to expand homeless outreach programs and increased affordable housing options. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Colorado Springs officials plan to vastly expand homeless services, shelter beds and affordable housing across the city while furthering the city's influence over how millions of dollars in federal grants are spent to combat homelessness.

On Wednesday, Mayor Steve Bach announced plans to repurpose at least $5 million in federal grants over the next two years to increase emergency shelter beds during the winter, fund more affordable housing options and expand outreach programs. Much of that money will go to a new day center - a one-stop shop for homeless services long sought by homeless advocates in the region.

"Hopefully this is going to take us to a much higher level," Bach said.

The plan marked the first time Bach matched money to his ambitions of ending homelessness in Colorado Springs - an effort that produced more promises than new programs since he first vowed to address the issue 15 months ago.

Bach last gathered the city's homeless service providers in May to float the idea of a day center and shelter campus called Sunrise Village. The campus concept, which did not include city funding, died when the city couldn't find property for the project.

The latest proposal veers away from the campus approach and is far more wide-reaching. It includes:

-Increasing emergency shelter beds, especially those available from Nov. 1 through March 31 every year

-Building a day center that includes showers; laundry facilities; job assistance; family and case management services; medical care; lockers; and a community voice mail system.

-Expanding outreach programs targeting the chronically homeless while incorporating more mental health services and transportation options, as well as beefed-up police patrols, lighting and security in areas where the homeless often gather.

-Using precision technology to assessing affordable housing options across El Paso County - the first such survey since 1998 - and expanding the delivery of rental and housing assistance.

Bach stressed that the city planned only to act as a "partner" and "facilitator" to local nonprofit organizations - not as a direct provider of services.

"We're not here to take the place of all of you in this community who have been working for many, many decades, and continue to do so much to help people," Bach said.

Nearly all of the $5 million the city plans to set aside over the next two years will come via U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants it receives each year, said Aimee Cox, the city's senior economic vitality specialist.

A small portion could also come from city general fund money already used for housing programs, or from previously unused grant funding.

The city will scale back several other initiatives to make room in its budget, Cox added.

"It's going to be a programs shift internally to bring more resources here," she said.

The mayor's announcement also alluded to a larger move by the city to assert more influence within the region's Continuum of Care - HUD's organized effort to streamline and coordinate housing and services for homeless people as they segue from shelters to more permanent housing.

The city plans to hire a consultant in February to help reorganize the Continuum of Care structure, a nod to changing federal regulations, said Suzi Bach, the mayor's wife, who helped draft the proposals. She also sits on the committee that will evaluate bids to oversee each project over the coming months.

City officials also plan to help draft a 10-year plan for combating homelessness in the Pikes Peak region.

A nonprofit, Homeward Pikes Peak, has been managing the Continuum of Care and helped create a 10-year plan in 2009. Cox said that plan is outdated and rarely used.

Many in Wednesday's standing-room audience of more than 100 people - most of whom are nonprofit employees or homeless - voiced calls for more public input, especially for the 10-year plan.

The United Way will conduct a series of listening tours among the homeless population and other community members, then forward that input to the city, said Jason Wood, the nonprofit's chief executive. Cox also vowed "extensive" stakeholder input.

The proposal is a "good start," said John Tighe, the Colorado Springs Community Action Agency's chief executive. But he said several hurdles could pop up, including controversy over the location of a day center. No location has been determined; the city will rely on whichever agency or business wins the proposal to develop the center to choose the site.

Wednesday's announcement proved vastly different from the mayor's May campus proposal, which caught many providers by surprise and left many nonprofits feeling like the city "was pushing us out of downtown," said Carolyn McDole, Ecumenical Social Ministries' executive director.

She applauded the day center - a long-held need for the city.

"It is things we've been talking about for homeless resources for years," McDole said.

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