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Street people to have cold-weather shelter

By: jakob rodgers Newspaper
October 31, 2013 Updated: October 31, 2013 at 7:57 pm
Caption +
Jeremy Johnson and Alex Griffith paint the floor of the site that is going to become the winter shelter at the Springs Rescue Mission in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Friday, October 11, 2013. (Kent Nishimura/The Gazette)

A Colorado Springs nonprofit plans to open a new, winter-long shelter on Friday — one open every night through mid-April, regardless of temperature.

Its doors should open just as a motel housing about 70 people struggling to avoid homelessness plans to close.

The conflicting announcements — one homeless shelter opening, a different kind of one closing — came Thursday. It  represents a boost in cold-weather beds across the city, but the loss of a program that increasingly catered to homeless families.

On Nov. 15, Homeward Pikes Peak plans to close the Aztec Motel, 1921 E. Platte Ave., which opened in 2010 during a spike in homeless camps in Colorado Springs. Bob Holmes, the nonprofit’s chief executive, plans to re-open the shelter in 2014 as a center for mothers undergoing substance abuse treatment, though no funding has been secured.

Program coordinators have been searching recently for housing for the motel’s families. Holmes promised all residents would be placed in other programs by Nov. 15.

“They feel like a family’s breaking apart,” said Karl McLaughlin, who has managed the program with his wife, Teresa McLaughlin.

The closure (see accompanying story) comes as the Springs Rescue Mission announced plans to operate the city’s only overnight shelter for chronically homeless people throughout the winter.

Once open on Friday night, the shelter won’t close until April 15.

“We’re just going to be more prepared — not only to meet their immediate need that night — but just to encourage them to access other services that will hopefully get them out of where they are, into a much better situation moving forward,” said Rev. Joe Vazquez, the nonprofit’s president and chief executive.

“So it really is a big step.”

In past years, the city managed a network of emergency shelters that opened whenever temperatures dipped below 32 degrees.

On those nights, the Salvation Army’s R.J. Montgomery Center slightly expanded its offering of beds. When those beds filled, the city asked the Springs Rescue Mission to open an overflow shelter, one that had 20 beds. Lighthouse Mobile Ministries offered a third on-call center.

Last fall, winter and spring, the Springs Rescue Mission opened an overflow shelter 98 times, registering about 1,100 overnight stays, said Bob Hughes, the nonprofit’s vice president of programs.

Often, the city’s call to open the overflow shelter didn’t come until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., Hughes said, leaving the nonprofit scrambling to find staff for the shelter.

The winter-long initiative — housed in the former Tayco Screen Printing & Embroidery building — features 30 beds open to men and women, an expansion from its men-only format of previous years. The nonprofit purchased that building, and the one next door, in the spring.

The R.J. Montgomery Center plans to still offer cold-weather beds on an on-call basis. When both those shelters are full, Lighthouse Mobile Ministries, 833 S. Circle Drive, will offer an additional 25 beds.

Colorado Springs officials granted $35,000 to the Springs Rescue Mission for nightly security guards, an increase of $10,000 from its funding for the on-call network, according to a city statement.

Given the Pikes Peak region’s unpredictable climate, the new shelter will invariably remain open during some warm-weather nights, Hughes concedes.

“They don’t have a place — they don’t have anywhere,” Hughes said. “Whether it’s 32 degrees or 39 degrees, it’s cold.”

The shelter’s greatest benefit may come in expanded homeless outreach opportunities.

The nonprofit can cull visitors from its Samaritans Dinner, which begins at 5 p.m., while promising another meal at the end of their stay with its Samaritan’s Breakfast at 7 a.m.

Once in the shelter, nonprofit officials say they will work to enroll visitors into their Resource Advocate Program.

“We’re trying to bookend this thing — it’s not just a shelter at night,” Hughes said.

The program’s future remains unknown. The city has only committed funding for the program through April 15, and nonprofit officials plan to use the building for an undetermined purpose in the spring.

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