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COLUMN: A sad story of broken public trust

January 8, 2018 Updated: January 8, 2018 at 8:35 am
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Hopefully, you have heard about the reopening of the Salvation Army's homeless warming shelter here in Colorado Springs.

This is a controversial reopening because the city and the Salvation Army told the residents of the Lowell neighborhood that the homeless center would never reopen.

I attended my first meeting of the Downtown Review Board. The board uses the Downtown Colorado Springs Code regulating plan to decide on whether to approve applications for development.

At this meeting, the Salvation Army unveiled its proposal outlining plans for an emergency warming shelter on Weber that could sleep up to 150 people a night.

Arguments were fierce. Those for the warming shelter expressed concern with saving life and limb, and the image and character of our city shown in how we handle this matter. Those against the warming shelter expressed concerns of interrupted business flow, vandalism, theft, hypodermic needles or fecal matter on private property and safety concerns regarding homeless people meandering in the streets.

Both sides had this in common: genuine concern for the safety of homeless citizens and deep disappointment expressed toward the Salvation Army and the city of Colorado Springs for years of broken promises.

For years, the Salvation Army shelter has seemed to be a magnet for homeless residents migrating through the area on a daily basis. The Lowell neighborhood has tried multiple approaches to solving problems caused by homeless citizens who are addicted (or exhibiting serious mental health issues). They have contacted the Salvation Army and city over and over asking for help.

The Salvation Army tried to address concerns. They apologized and proposed changes. Changes include installing security cameras and a hiring a security firm to patrol the area. The facility's hours have been changed - now 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. - to avoid people being on Weber Street during rush hour.

Clients will line up in the building's back parking lot, minimizing loitering along Weber Street. The back lot of the Salvation Army is surrounded with special opaque fencing to prevent being an eyesore. Portable bathrooms there should decrease reports of fecal matter on surrounding properties.

The shelter's staff will pick up trash in the surrounding neighborhood several times a week. Plus, the Salvation Army has vans on standby to transport clients on a daily basis to Springs Rescue Mission for showers or services.

The changes were outlined in an agreement attached to the permit. One could see the level of expense and effort that the Salvation Army has put into making the shelter a better part of the neighborhood.

But watching this meeting, I had to conclude that the city could not care less about the Lowell neighborhood business owners or residents.

Don't get me wrong. The Downtown Review Board - appointees of the City Council - seemed interested. They asked good questions regarding the operating practices of the Salvation Army. They echoed the Lowell neighborhood concerns. They welcomed the Salvation Army changes with approval of the permit.

Our city officials did not apologize for breaking their promise to the Lowell residents. Not once.

Then, the city of Colorado Springs admitted to not even trying to put a warming shelter in another neighborhood. They owned that after a year and spending over a million dollars, the amount of beds for the homeless has only increased by seven.

Without shame, our city officials told us that they have not increased the affordable housing units in our city over the last year.

The city also did not present a plan address the loitering, vandalism or trespassing in the neighborhood. The HOT team was cold as ice defending lackluster performance in the area. Did CSPD offer to patrol more? Of course not.

Finally, CSPD sent a lieutenant to tell the Lowell residents who live with daily mayhem that they have little crime in the neighborhood. The stats tell a story, they said.

The only story here is of broken public trust.

City of Colorado Springs: Restore the trust of these local residents. Protect and serve them. Do better than seven beds for the homeless.

Taxpayers have done their part. Do yours.


Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Rachel is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.

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