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EDITORIAL: Let's all do our part on homelessness

By: The Gazette editorial board
December 27, 2017 Updated: December 27, 2017 at 1:37 pm
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Because of worsening conditions, the doors of the Salvation Army Warming Shelter were opened an hour early for those who would have to spend the night outside. A line of people line up to get into a warm place to spend the night on Sunday, January 31, 2016. Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

As we sit around the fireplace, surrounded by holiday cheer, the homeless prepare for another subfreezing night in one of the community's shanty villages of cardboard boxes and drop-cloth tents.

A sad Gazette story on Christmas led with the headline "A year after homeless shelter opening, Springs back at square one."

The Springs Rescue Mission opened a new multimillion-dollar shelter about this time last year. The beds are routinely full, the homeless keep coming and the makeshift villages proliferate.

Poverty and homelessness are biblical, and the Bible assures this will never change.

"The poor you will always have with you," implores Matthew, 26:11.

Colorado Spring has taken extraordinary measures to avoid ending up "back at square one." A few years back, city government and the El Pomar Foundation teamed up to rent motel rooms for the homeless.

Nonprofits provide food pantries, clothing, housing assistance, and all varieties of substance abuse counseling, mental health and social services.

No matter what we do, we have people living on the ground and their numbers grow.

The problem is not simple. In the mix are substance abuse, mental illness, a shortage of affordable apartments and homes, broken families and general societal chaos. For the typical homeless person, this is not merely the lack of a room and bed.

We may never end homelessness, but other states have reduced it.

A 2016 Department of Housing and Urban Development survey determined homelessness had dropped by about 2.6 percent nationwide. It increased in only a handful of states, and Colorado saw an annual increase of 6 percent. The number of homeless veterans in Colorado increased by 25 percent, as it decreased in 43 other states.

Few who work directly with the homeless downplay speculation that legal marijuana plays a role in the homeless rate.

"There's no question that marijuana and other drugs - in combination with mental illness or other disabling conditions - are essential contributors to chronic homelessness," Gov. John Hickenlooper said in his State of the State address this year.

In his former role as Denver mayor, Hickenlooper embarked on the aggressive goal of eliminating homelessness.

"The marijuana industry needs to accept responsibility for the unintended consequences of their impact on society," said Daniel Starrett, a divisional commander of the Salvation Army, as quoted in a February story in The Guardian.

Media have told of marijuana squatters who move to Colorado to enjoy legal pot, without jobs or adequate resources to buy or rent homes. Others migrate to Colorado with futile plans to land employment in the marijuana industry.

Pot is clearly in the mix, and state government needs to address it.

But Colorado had a homeless problem before legalization of medicinal or recreational pot. We cannot expect one law, one church, one city government, or another round of triage funding by state government to provide a panacea for homelessness.

To correct this dilemma, the public needs information about the litany of problems that cause people to live outside.

State legislators should work early in the 2018 session to devise and fund a comprehensive study into the causes of increasing homelessness throughout Colorado. Use marijuana money to pay for it.

Human suffering on our sidewalks and streets symbolizes failure by our state. The homeless will always be with us, but their numbers should not grow by leaps and bounds. We all need to correct this problem, within our families, our places of worship and employment, and in our communities.

The Gazette editorial board

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