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Survey looks at homeless people and their needs in the Colorado Springs area

January 27, 2015 Updated: January 27, 2015 at 11:53 am
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photo - Andrew Phelps, a Homeless Outreach Specialist, asks Ted Laurila, left, questions during a count of the homeless Monday Jan. 26, 2015. Laurila works construction and lives in a camp near Fillmore and Nevada Avenue. He has been homeless the better part of three years.
Carol Lawrence/The Gazette
Andrew Phelps, a Homeless Outreach Specialist, asks Ted Laurila, left, questions during a count of the homeless Monday Jan. 26, 2015. Laurila works construction and lives in a camp near Fillmore and Nevada Avenue. He has been homeless the better part of three years. Carol Lawrence/The Gazette 

Trudging through a muddy field, Andrew Phelps and a cadre of outreach workers approached a trash-strewn camp where it appeared that two people were living in a tent.

They came bearing socks, candy and a simple request: Can we count you?

About 100 people fanned out across El Paso County for the annual Point-In-Time survey - a census of the region's homeless population that focused on where people stayed Sunday night into Monday morning.

Organized by Pikes Peak United Way, the effort runs through Wednesday and aims to offer the best snapshot possible of the area's homeless population. Some information is required for the region to seek millions in federal funds to combat homelessness. And the information gathered could offer local nonprofits a better sense of where to hone their services.

"Even if we had all the money and housing in the world, could we get everyone off the street? No," said Anne Beer, vice president of income and housing stability at the Pikes Peak United Way. "But we can make progress."

Last year's survey tallied 1,219 homeless people living in El Paso County the night of Jan. 26. Of that figure, 269 people went without shelter amid a deep shortage of shelter beds across the county.

The United Way cautioned that those figures weren't all-encompassing, and the true number of local homeless people could be far greater.

On Monday, organizers sought to make this year's count even more thorough.

Phelps, an outreach specialist with Homes for All Veterans, teamed up with the Colorado Springs Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team to map the known homeless camps across El Paso County. Using that data, they sought outliers who often go uncounted.

Meanwhile, most volunteers worked at the Penrose Library or at the Marian House Soup Kitchen. The latter saw more than 700 visitors Monday seeking food and services - making it an ideal place to talk to people about their needs and circumstances.

Not everyone answered the survey questions, often because they were hesitant to provide personal information.

But others were eager to talk about their lives while providing insight that could help nonprofits.

In addition to asking how long respondents have been homeless, the surveys inquired whether people are veterans, have a mental illness, and have been physically, emotionally or sexually abused.

The results are kept confidential, organizers said.

Organizers also asked some people to take a second survey - one new to this year's count, that aims to assess how vulnerable someone is to becoming or remaining homeless.

Nonprofit volunteers first administered the vulnerability index in October during a Stand Down for homeless veterans. It could factor heavily into a push to end homelessness among local veterans this year - an initiative adopted by hundreds of cities across the nation.

"It isn't just the mentally ill, it's not just the kids who hang out by 7-Eleven," Beer said. "It's a complex issue."

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