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Effort to end veteran homelessness in Colorado Springs takes another step forward

April 21, 2015 Updated: April 21, 2015 at 9:29 am
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Homeless services in Colorado Springs expanded on two fronts Monday - including dozens more housing opportunities for veterans and the creation of a temporary day center.

Thirty vouchers to house homeless veterans were awarded to El Paso County, offering a key means to help the city effectively end veteran homelessness by the end of the year, said Rick Garcia, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's regional administrator.

"Everyone's pulling together, and that's how it's going to happen," Garcia said.

The vouchers were among roughly 100 awarded Monday across Colorado by HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In all, the vouchers totaled $615,859, of which Colorado Springs received $178,528.

Several nonprofits, led by Rocky Mountain Human Services and its Homes for All Veterans program, are working to effectively end veteran homelessness in Colorado Springs by the end of the year. That generally means ensuring that homelessness is "brief, rare and ideally non-reoccurring" among veterans, though organizers are still working on a more refined definition, said Craig Schlattmann, Homes for All Veterans' program manager.

His strategy has involved enlisting volunteers to reach out to homeless veterans, who can use the vouchers to get off the streets, and get connected with case workers.

Not everyone has gone straight from the streets to a house. For example, a community member helped pay to put a 78-year-old veteran in a hotel for a couple weeks. Then Homes for All Veterans took over, helping Alvertis Richardson find an apartment using a voucher. He moves into the unit later this week.

Colorado Springs has 176 such housing vouchers, of which roughly 60 have yet to be filled, Garcia said.

Schlattmann estimates that about 300 veterans must be housed to meet the goal - some of whom can also be helped with rental assistance rather than a voucher.

Now, the key is community involvement, Schlattmann said.

"We will end veteran homelessness in this community when we as a community have made a commitment to make this issue our issue - not somebody else's issue," he said.

Also Monday, Springs Rescue Mission expanded its Resource Advocate Program to run through weekday afternoons.

The nonprofit's leaders said the program amounts to a temporary day center - one that could operate until the organization establishes a far bigger facility.

"It won't be as nice as our permanent one, but it's kind of the precursor to that," said Larry Yonker, the nonprofit's president and chief executive.

Springs Rescue Mission is funding the expanded program, though city officials are considering funneling $129,000 in federal grant funding to the organization for the program, said Aimee Cox, the city's housing and community initiatives manager. Another $11,000 in general fund money has already been approved for the program.

Monday amounted to its soft opening. Shortly after 1 p.m., a handful of people milled about the room, which served as the nonprofit's 57-bed winter shelter until late last week.

Four people, including a caseworker, played Yahtzee, while Andrew Archer and his wife, Katherine Archer, cared for their 6-month-old son, Matthew.

Typically, the couple has spent their days loitering in Springs Rescue Mission's parking lot after visiting the Resource Advocate Program in the mornings.

Katherine Archer and Matthew sleep at the Salvation Army's R.J. Montgomery Center. Meanwhile, Andrew Archer camps in various spots across the city.

Andrew Archer's eyebrows perked up when discussing the need for a day center.

"A day center would give people something to do, some place to be," he said.

In a few weeks, the program will feature weekly caseworker visits from outside organizations, including AspenPointe, said Sarah Stacy, the Resource Advocate Program's director.

It will not have laundry or shower facilities - amenities targeted for a more permanent day center, Yonker said. However, the nonprofit plans to emphasize job skills and health care services at the temporary center, while offering a safe place to socialize.

Derek Tomek, 23, who is homeless and visited the center Monday, said he would be back.

"We have no place to go," Tomek said. "All we can do is go to parks and stuff."

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