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Colorado Springs puts plans for a homeless day center on hold for the short-term

May 30, 2014 Updated: May 30, 2014 at 6:45 am
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Creation of a homeless day center in Colorado Springs will be delayed up to a year amid concerns that nonprofits need more time and flexibility to embark on the project, a Colorado Springs official said this week.

The project's delay marks the first setback to Mayor Steve Bach's initiative to end homelessness, affecting one of the more popular aspects of the six-point plan he announced in late January. But two nonprofit leaders also said it signaled a greater willingness by the city to listen to their suggestions, rather than rush to an uneducated, one-size-fits-all approach.

Proponents say a day center - which would include showers, laundry facilities, case management, medical treatment, storage lockers and job assistance services - is sorely needed to help get homeless citizens off the streets and working to find more permanent housing. It would also give them a place to spend the day out of the elements.

Many now use the downtown library for a daytime hangout.

No timeline for restarting the day center grant process has been set, although "2015 is probably a little more reasonable," said Aimee Cox, Colorado Springs' senior economic vitality specialist.

"We've met with a number of providers - there doesn't appear to be anybody in a position right now to lead on that," Cox said.

City officials originally sought to open the day center grant process on April 30, and planned to pay for it using $1.1 million set aside for public facilities.

The day center plans were tabled after city officials met with representatives from Springs Rescue Mission, Urban Peak Colorado Springs and Rocky Mountain Human Services, said Larry Yonker, Springs Rescue Mission's president and chief executive.

The nonprofits have floated the idea of creating multiple day centers geared toward different demographics - such as one for youths, one for adults and one for military veterans. Each has been working to get such centers going.

"Each of us, we all have plans to have some form of day center," Yonker said. "We're just not ready to pull the trigger on it yet."

But it's unclear how their ambitions will fit in with the city's initiative.

Yonker's nonprofit is in the midst of examining all properties east and west of the mission's campus on West Las Vegas Street, he said. A master plan report, due in August, will give the nonprofit direction on how to expand and deal with zoning issues.

The complexities of creating a day center there are manyfold, he said. For example, such a facility might mix clients who recently left substance abuse counseling with people still in it.

The nonprofit also hosts a family program at its campus, creating more logistical challenges.

"We're kind of going back to - at least looking at - what would a homeless multiagency campus look like, and which agencies would be on the campus?" Yonker said.

While the decision to delay might signal a sign of increased cooperation, it still came as a disappointment to Sidne Dean, the associate director of public services at the Pikes Peak Library District. Homeless people often flock to the Penrose Library - not always in search of books, but for a place to go during the day, especially in the winter.

"A delay is just, well, status quo," Dean said. "But it's a shame because people do need services that are accessible."

The $1.1 million in city money that will help fund a day center is part of Bach's initiative to repurpose $5 million - largely in federal grants - for improved homeless and housing services. Also on the list: more emergency shelter beds, expanded outreach services and increased affordable housing options.

The city has started the outreach program grant process, and Cox helped announce preliminary results of an affordable housing study on Wednesday that showed an 18,406-unit shortfall across El Paso County. That figure is expected to grow nearly 8 percent by 2019.

And, instead of pursuing the day center for now, city officials plan to beef up funding for more emergency shelter beds. In 2013, the city lost 120 beds, Cox said.

Cox stressed the day center won't suffer the same fate as Bach's last pitch for a homeless campus in May 2013, which he called Sunrise Village. The much-ballyhooed concept stalled when city officials could not find a location for the project.

"We were very aggressive with this schedule we put forward," said Cox, of the latest day center initiative. "It doesn't mean we've abandoned it as a priority. It just means that we're going to have to do a little more - the community's going to have to do more work around it, and I don't know what that looks like yet."

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