homeless shelter
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A sea of bunk beds at Springs Rescue Mission on Thursday, November 17, 2016. photo by Jerilee Bennett,The Gazette

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A $500,000 investment by the city would help double shelter beds for homeless people in Colorado Springs, city officials said Monday.

That $500,000, combined with federal funds, would add hundreds of “low-barrier” beds to local shelters, said Andrew Phelps, the city’s homelessness prevention and response coordinator.

“It’s about 420 new additional beds. It’s 150 percent more than we have today,” Council President Richard Skorman said. “It’s going to make it so we will be able to tell people that they have a place to be.”

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With “low-barrier” beds, Phelps said, “Although you can show up intoxicated, you still have to be able to lay down and obey the rules of the shelter. You can’t use drugs or alcohol in the shelter.”

This approach is so much more effective at helping people that federal funds aren’t even available for “high-barrier” beds, he said.

If approved by the council, the appropriation would come out of the city’s general fund, said Chief Financial Officer Charae McDaniel.

About 100 beds could be added to the Rescue Mission by Thanksgiving, said Steve Posey, the city’s program administrator for Housing and Urban Development.

Another 120 could be installed by then at the Salvation Army, a traditionally high-barrier shelter expected to change its rules for the city-funded beds.

The rest could be ready after the new year begins.

Such an addition was recommended this month by the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care, a coalition of nonprofits and agencies coordinating services to help more people out of homelessness.

Extra beds also would help city departments that have a tough balancing act, Mayor John Suthers said Friday at his annual State of the City address.

“That means ensuring that service providers are available to meet shelter needs and address mental health and substance abuse problems and also trying to minimize the adverse impact of homelessness on the health, safety and welfare of all our citizens,” Suthers said.

In July, the council banned creekside camping, saying that would keep people safe from floods and reduce E. coli in Fountain and Monument creeks. People caught camping within 100 feet of city waterways and concrete drainage canals can face up to $2,500 in fines and 180 days in jail.

But enforcing that and other camping bans has been difficult and controversial because shelter beds are inadequate.

Before police can “legally and morally” enforce those bans, the city must have shelter for those people to use, said Councilman Dave Geislinger.

Increased shelter beds would allow police to “aggressively enforce no camping bans,” Suthers said.

Council members expressed support for the appropriation, which Phelps called the “lowest hanging fruit ... the least we can do in our community to ensure no one is forced to sleep outside.”

But the extra beds are a short-term solution, he said. Increasing affordable, permanent, supportive housing is the right long-term approach.

Councilman Don Knight asked city staff to try to reimburse the general fund by drawing from other departments that will benefit from the increased shelter beds and by contacting other community organizations for contributions.

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