Mayor, wife envision campus to help homeless in Colorado Springs

By Barb Cotter Published: May 7, 2013 | 10:20 am 0

Mayor Steve Bach and his wife, Suzi, have a plan to help the homeless of Colorado Springs: They envision a 24/7 campus that would include, among many offerings, emergency housing, laundry facilities, a medical and dental clinic, showers, and a day center with job training and mental health services.

The only problem? They don't have a location for the project, which, for now, is being called Sunrise Village.

'I'm really putting out a call to action to anybody who owns a building or a site I'd say within a 10-minute drive of downtown, ' the mayor said Monday. 'We looked at several buildings - just a cursory look, and there are still some out there that we are chasing down. '

But the Bachs want to get the ball rolling on the project because they say there's a pressing need for comprehensive, one-stop-shopping services for people who are homeless, and they'll unveil the plan Tuesday evening to a group at the Hillside Community Center.

'We've got a situation that's not good that we need to do something about, ' Bach said.

Last year, Bach said that the city needed to fast-track a 'breakthrough ' strategy to help the homeless. Suzi Bach, with assistance from a fellow at the El Pomar Foundation, did the groundwork. She studied best practices in other cities. She rode along with the Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team, walked downtown with a group from Catholic Charities, visited a day center and rescue mission in Denver and volunteered at the Marian House Soup Kitchen.

'After a lot of research by Suzi and a fellow from El Pomar, we crystallized an approach to a campus setting, ' the mayor said.

The Bachs are well aware of the NIMBY blowback that killed a similar project proposed for the Mill Street neighborhood just south of downtown in 1999. The El Pomar Foundation planned to contribute $5 million toward the $6 million project, which would have consolidated services provided by 14 agencies, but after heavy opposition from neighbors and a string of lawsuits filed to stop the center, El Pomar withdrew the money.

El Pomar is ready to step in again, Bach said, but no dollar figure has been discussed. And this time, Suzi Bach said, they're prepared to work with neighbors to find a solution satisfactory to everyone.

The Bachs have two key segments to their plan. One is a day center that would provide a variety of supportive services, such as job training, access to computers and medical services. Homeless service providers have said such a center is long overdue and greatly needed.

'Our library is currently our day center, so that is a pretty pressing need, to have somewhere for people to go during the day, ' Suzi Bach said. 'And then, do we incorporate other things into this day center, which we thought was a good idea, to be able to provide services so not only can you go there and get a shower and maybe store your items, but there's an opportunity to talk to someone about job training placement, counseling services - an array of services we want to see in this day center. '

They also want to include emergency housing that would be segregated by families/couples, single women and single men. But the mayor said if the property isn't big enough to accommodate everything they'd like to see on the campus, the housing might have to be located elsewhere, or limited to families at the outset.

'The top priority is families, ' Bach said.

Another service would be kenneling for pets, either on-site or in partnership with the Humane Society.

'The HOT team says a lot of people won't come in because of their pets, ' Suzi Bach said.

The mayor said the city will issue a request for proposals to find a programs manager, and hopes that existing nonprofits will take part in providing services. The city won't add staff, he said, but that doesn't mean city money won't be used.

'Certainly, I think we're going to have to spend some city funds on operations. It's not just acquiring the property; it's operating it. '

Bach asks that anyone who knows of property in the downtown area that could house a campus for homeless services contact his office at 385-5900 or email SBach@SpringsGov.com.

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