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Coming together to address homelessness

By: name newspaper
December 16, 2017 Updated: December 16, 2017 at 4:10 am
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Our community is not immune. Thriving cities across the nation are experiencing a serious rise in the number of people experiencing homelessness. Colorado is also among several states feeling the surge, too.

Each week, there are nearly 600 people waiting for a housing solution. The majority of folks are from the Pikes Peak region. Thanks to many nonprofit organizations, these neighbors' needs have been evaluated and risk assessments conducted. While a helpful step, the root of the problems stems from a severe shortage of housing with enriched services to support people with persistent mental health and other challenges, as well as a general lack of affordable housing options for working people.

The past two years Colorado Springs, El Paso County and nonprofit partners have worked effectively to partner in addressing challenges. A few highlights include:

- The Springs Rescue Mission has expanded its year-round capacity for shelter beds for men and women (275) and is about to break ground on a permanent supportive housing apartment building (65 apartments)

- Ecumenical Social Ministries added a women's shelter (16 beds)

- Urban Peak added more housing units in Permanent Supportive Housing

- TESSA added a rapid rehousing program

- Interfaith Hospitality Network increased its family shelter

- An increase in daytime programming for services, R&R, case management and personal development is taking place at Catholic Charities, the Springs Rescue Mission, in coordination with the Pikes Peak Library District

- Our number of emergency shelter beds is 605.

And, yet, this is not enough. With winter just around the corner, I am asking our community for two things: patience and compassion. In the past two months, four people have perished on the streets due to dropping temperatures. One potentially life-saving tool that our community needs immediately is a winter warming shelter. This temporary solution will help now, but we need to do both: ensure people are safe now and increase access to affordable housing in the long term. We commend the Salvation Army for stepping up and partnering with the city of Colorado Springs and others to provide a winter warming shelter, which we know will saves lives.

We have several hundred people sleeping outside overnight. As temperatures drop, these individuals are exposed to hypothermia. Hypothermia can set in when the temperature drops below 40 degrees without proper clothing or shelter. Hypothermia unfortunately kills people each year. We are on the brink of an emergency. Failing to provide shelter will result in preventable fatalities. Imagine how we would feel if one of our loved ones - a mother, father, son or daughter - was sleeping outside at night.

Placing a shelter in or near neighborhoods is a challenge. This year is no exception. I'd like to commend the Lowell neighbors who came out to a recent town hall to discuss the warming shelter. These neighbors are solution-minded and ready to work with city, county and community organization workers to provide a best possible solution to avoid potential tragedy.

A working group of professionals is committed to mitigating the inherent challenges and minimizing impact on the area.

I'm a part of a coalition of community, government and business leaders who serve on the governing board of The Pikes Peak Continuum of Care, which exists to represent the broad interests of our community and manage the process by which federal funds flow into our community to address homelessness. Our governing board helps to set a vision to meet the needs of our community in the next 10 years to prevent homelessness and end homelessness by making homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. We oversee the administration of $2.4 million from Housing and Urban Development and support the city as it invests an additional $2.5 million in Housing and Urban Development funding for emergency homeless prevention, housing and intervention services.

The membership of the Continuum of Care is open to anyone interested in this important topic. Each January, the Continuum of Care conducts an annual survey to track the number of person affected by homelessness. We are now preparing for the Point in Time Survey, which will take place during the last week of January. However, the best data that we have is now nearly 11 months old. It informed us that El Paso County officially had a count of 1,415 people experiencing homelessness. That was an increase of 113 over the year before (1,302).

In the spring, the Continuum of Care will host a community meeting of all stakeholders. This is an excellent opportunity to get connected, share your views and learn about how our community is working together to address the complex challenges of homelessness. Join us!

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Beth Hall Roalstad is the executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak and chair of the governing board of Pikes Peak Continuum of Care.

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