Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

GUEST COLUMN: Community launched homelessness initiative

Suzi Bach Updated: May 4, 2014 at 10:28 am 0

A recent news report pointed to the homeless initiative as an example of political divisiveness in our community. This is simply not the case.

In January, the city proposed an action plan to address homelessness in Colorado Springs. The Initiative to End Homelessness is a bold statement of the city's commitment to bringing additional resources and leadership to ensure that all citizens of Colorado Springs have access to safe shelter and a strong safety net of services to help them avoid and end homelessness. I think that is a goal we can all get behind.

The plan works alongside the faith community, nonprofit organizations, business, elected officials and regional governments to enhance the significant work already being done by homeless service providers in Colorado Springs, and to create strategies to prevent homelessness. It focuses first on strengthening the local Continuum of Care and launching a communitywide strategic planning process to identify key programs and investments for the next 10 years.

It was local service providers that identified the need for a road map and a definition of success as priorities in ending homelessness. The city stepped up in partnership with the Pikes Peak United Way to invest in that effort. As a result, by September, our community will seat a new governing board for the Continuum of Care - a board made up of faith, business, nonprofit, community and government stakeholders, who will launch the strategic planning.

While our community builds its leadership capacity, the city will continue to direct funding to critical needs such as increasing access to emergency shelter and housing, facilitating the development of a day center and expanding outreach programs to reduce street homelessness. Though not a direct service provider, the city is the steward of millions of dollars of federal block grant funds specifically allocated to address affordable housing, economic and community development needs of low and moderate income residents. The city is allocating $5 million of federal funding over the next two years for services, facility improvements and housing projects to address the specific needs of individuals and families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The city also partnered with El Paso County to conduct an affordable housing needs assessment, which will provide our community with the information and tools we need to more aggressively address community housing needs.

Developing the Initiative to End Homelessness has been a multi-year project. We've researched best practices in other cities and with the help of a team of El Pomar fellows, interviewed numerous agencies and service providers in the area to assess the needs of those experiencing homelessness. Throughout this process, we have engaged community partners including Colorado Springs City Council, El Paso County, Pikes Peak United Way, Homeward Pikes Peak and others to help identify priorities, and we will continue to seek community input as we move forward. Just last week, the City's Housing Development Division hosted a public hearing to get feedback on the 2014 Action Plan and proposed use of the federal block grant funds and will begin soliciting input on the 2015 plan next month.

Across the country, mayors are stepping up to end homelessness in their communities. Recent successes in Salt Lake City and Phoenix suggest that political will is a key factor. Closer to home, in 2007, then Mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper, hosted "Under One Roof: Denver Help the Homeless Summit" that brought together 88 mayors, county executives, funders and policymakers to exchange ideas to end long-term homelessness.

They found that the keys to success were getting the faith, business and philanthropic communities on board, building public support with hard data on costs and outcomes, educating the public and providing strong mayoral leadership. In fact, the report indicated that the number one key to getting private fundraising started was the personal involvement of the mayor.

The Initiative to End Homelessness is not a top down directive, but a statement of the city's commitment to engagement with the community to promote collaboration and invest in strategies that prevent and end homelessness in Colorado Springs.

I continue to be optimistic that it will be looked to as a great model of how the community has come together to solve a problem and change the lives of so many in our community for the better.

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Suzi Bach is trustee, committee member for The Initiative to End Homelessness.

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