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United Way initiative to 'change the narrative around homelessness' kicks off with survey

January 25, 2016 Updated: January 25, 2016 at 10:26 pm
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photo - Wayne Malone, left, answers questions from Andy Phelps Monday, January 25, 2016 as Phelps conducts the annual  homeless point-in-time count on a trail under the Tejon Street overpass near I-25. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Wayne Malone, left, answers questions from Andy Phelps Monday, January 25, 2016 as Phelps conducts the annual homeless point-in-time count on a trail under the Tejon Street overpass near I-25. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Homeless off and on since 1981, Wayne Malone prefers a certain kind of campsite.

"Wherever these people don't find us," said Malone, 44, gesturing to two nearby police officers.

On Monday, those officers - along with scores of volunteers organized by the Pikes Peak United Way - tried finding Malone and hundreds of other homeless people across El Paso County. Their job: Count every homeless person in the county, including those that want to be found and those that do not.

Known as the Point In Time survey, the count represents the best estimate of how many people are homeless in the community.

Last year, volunteers tallied 1,073 people - a figure that has hardly changed for several years. Of that total, 243 people went unsheltered, meaning they slept in tents, under bridges or on the city's streets.

This year, the count also helped kick off a new initiative by the Pikes Peak United Way called 31 Days of Homelessness. Over the next month, the United Way and other nonprofits plan to highlight the progress they've made combating homelessness, said Jason Wood, the United Way's president and chief executive.

Throughout the upcoming month, nonprofits plan to offer tours of their facilities, and poverty simulators will be held to offer residents a better sense for life on Colorado Springs' streets. Also, a documentary will be screened Feb. 4 at Colorado College and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs regarding poverty.

"Our goal is to truly change the narrative around homelessness," Wood said.

First, the United Way's volunteers must finish their annual count.

It never amounts to a complete census, because finding and speaking to every homeless person in the county is nearly impossible. Rather, volunteers ask homeless people whether they wish to answer a survey with several basic questions - the most important being where each person slept Sunday night into Monday morning. Other questions include whether they are veterans, if they have a mental illness and how long they've been homeless.

The United Way will sift through every survey taken and weed out duplicates. A final report is not expected until late spring or summer.

Some information is required for the region to seek millions in federal funds to combat homelessness, but nonprofits also use it to better hone their services.

Often, homeless people choose not to participate, and go uncounted.

The first two people visited by Dan McCormack, an officer on Colorado Springs Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team, decided against cooperating.

One woman sat in a sleeping bag on a bicycle path near S. Sierra Madre and W. Las Vegas streets. Another stayed in her tent when McCormack and another officer, Tim Kippel, arrived.

"It's totally hit or miss," McCormack said.

Before leaving, Kippel stapled two pieces of paper to a nearby tree - one an orange sign warning that her creekside camp violated two city ordinances, one for camping and one for littering. The second was a small card with roughly 15 phone numbers on it to connect people to housing and medical services.

He stapled the same two pieces of paper to each campsite they visited.

Officers have typically avoided citing people for ordinance violations during the count. After just two hours, McCormack's team, which included Andy Phelps of Homes For All Veterans, completed surveys for 11 people, including Malone. It was likely a fraction of the surveys completed by several teams dispatched across the county.

They started along Fountain Creek near the Springs Rescue Mission campus, and moved south downstream - talking to anyone they could find along the way.

One stop included a bridge for Tejon Street near Fountain Creek, south of downtown Colorado Springs.

Spread across the dirt were four tents, 10 shopping carts and a wheelchair.

The team counted one person in the entire encampment. No one else was home.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter: @jakobrodgers

Facebook: Jakob Rodgers

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