Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Homeless issue in Colorado Springs

Letters Published: May 9, 2013

These things bear repeating

I wish my friend and co-worker Bob Holmes would stop repeating the urban legend that 'many ' panhandlers net $50,000 per year. It's not true. It doesn't help.

What Bob should be repeating is:

that many 'homeless ' persons who live in motels spend 100 percent of their income for lodging

that 'existing programs to fit virtually every need ' really don't exist or are at capacity

that the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter is often full

that many persons on the streets are not eligible to stay in the shelter

that many homeless suffer moderate to severe mental illness and have no where to go

that, except for the jail, every agency turns homeless people from their door every day

Stephen Handen, Colorado Springs

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Homeless youths need help

The community conversation on homelessness hosted by The Gazette and Colorado College has real potential to enlighten and bridge understanding. Let's seize this opportunity to move the conversation beyond what to do about our discomfort with panhandling.

The oft used phrase giving 'a hand up instead of a handout ' requires real investment by all sectors of our community. Knowing what puts someone on the street in the first place could be an important step to considering investments for real change.

In the past six months, Urban Peak's outreach team has helped some 400 homeless youths and young adults on the streets, under the bridges and in the alleys of our city. How did these kids end up without a roof?

About half have mental health issues that go either untreated or sporadically treated. Even well employed and well insured parents struggle with accepting and working through mental illness with their children, and sometimes youths are turned out of the family and slip through the cracks and onto the street for at least a while.

A significant portion of homeless youths - about 30 percent here at Urban Peak's youth shelter - were severely rejected by their families when they came out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Many others leave foster care at age 18 and enter the supposed adult world with little or no supports to underpin them on the road to independence. And some come from homeless families themselves.

Supportive housing can be the bridge that keeps homeless youths from living under the bridge. Let's take the hand of a young person early in life, guide their journey and make sure they have options to the street.

Shawna Rae Kemppainen, Urban Peak, Colorado Springs

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Senior won't go downtown

Thank you for the interesting articles by the two city leaders concerning our homeless problem in last Sunday's edition. The ACLU thinks panhandling is a protected freedom of speech issue and others say the homeless congregate downtown because that is where the easy targets are for money for their drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.

We have many social services and food charities in our city. And most are easily accessed close to downtown. Maybe if we did not have so many charities we would not attract so many homeless. 'If we build it, they will come ' is a true reason for so many homeless here.

We also have an overabundance of dogs in our city. Might I suggest our citizens not get a new dog when their dog dies? Millions of dollars are spent annually in our county on dog food and dog health issues. Maybe members of our community should consider diverting those dollars to the homeless. There could be an adopt-a-homeless person program to help a person with a name and a past to make his 'present ' a better experience. Maybe Bob Holmes at Homeward Pikes Peak would consider coordinating such a program.

My wife and I are senior retirees and we rarely go downtown anymore due to the drunks, panhandlers and crime there. You can make the streets narrower and build median barriers but if you don't clear out the undesirable element and make citizens feel safe there, we will not go downtown.

Ronald D. Kunzelman, Colorado Springs

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GodCent could be a solution

The Community Conversations panel 'The Homeless Divide ' brought to mind one more potential piece to the homeless and panhandling situation:

'Scruffy Bum, ' 'beggar, ' 'panhandler, ' 'pregnant woman with a 5-year-old girl standing on a freezing street corner. ' We've seen them across America and around the world. 'Should I give them money? Will they use it wisely or will it go for drugs and alcohol? ' When you see the same person occupying a street corner, year in and year out, when you see them shut down at 5, walk to their new convertible, how do you feel? Did you truly do them any long-term good?

Colorado Springs has a great service in 211 but it's passive; not open 24/7, closed weekends; and, most importantly not proactively seeking out those on street corners. If United Way and 211 were a panacea we would not see beggars and homeless on our streets.

This is where a proposed program called GodCent can come to the rescue as one more piece to the puzzle. It, too, is not a panacea but rather a strong advocate for and supplement to 211 and other humane programs. We go directly to the person in need - someone who, for one or more reasons, may not have the ability to make the first move. So, instead of turning away or handing over cash simply hand them a GodCent card. You can buy them for a buck knowing that all proceeds will go helping those who are having trouble. I encourage all to attend the discussion tonight.

Gregory Olinyk, Denver

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