At last, the first signs of spring. Trees budding. Grass getting green. People pushing carts filled with their meager belongings. Long lines outside some of the agencies. Tents in sidewalks and parking lots.
I haven’t lost my mind. Homelessness is a sign of spring in Colorado Springs. Just like the trees and plants around us, in springtime homelessness grows. And grows.
This city needs more solutions. I am open to considering ideas. Have you heard of Initiative 300 in Denver?
Denver has a ban on camping. These ordinances that prohibit use of tarps, sleeping bags and tents in public. But in Denver they are considering a drastic change. Here’s a summary of the idea.
Shall the voters … adopt a measure that secures and enforces basic rights for all people … including the right to rest and shelter oneself from the elements in a non-obstructive manner in outdoor public spaces, to eat, share or accept or give free food in any public space where food is not prohibited, to occupy a legally parked motor vehicle belonging to another, with the owner’s permission and to have a right and expectation of privacy and safety of or in one’s person and property?
I have heard this before. Initiative 300 is a just recycled version of the Right to Rest bill that failed in 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015.
The voter question — like the bill — proposes that “public spaces” includes all public easements. Seattle and L.A. have similar ordinances, laws and judgments in place. The result has been “skid rows” that include tens of thousands of people.
Initiative 300 sells itself as an alternative to the camping ban that benefits homeless citizens. Don’t be fooled. Initiative 300 is a trap, not an alternative.
So, I’d like to show you an effective new alternative.
Community First! Village is a 27-acre community in Austin Texas that provides affordable housing and a supportive community for people moving away from chronic homelessness. This “village” helps get folks off the streets, while empowering the surrounding community to be more inclusive.
They don’t just to get the homeless off the streets. The Community First! Village includes amenities such as an amphitheater, medical clinic, market and other common areas. Socializing is highly encouraged.
The founder of Austin’s Community First! Village Alan Graham says, “ … right now, we’re building communities, really, in the United States that are isolating people inside of our homes. What we’re doing is trying to reverse that trend by drawing people outside.” The village is a testament to possibilities born out of partnerships between nonprofits, public and private sectors and religious organizations.
We can have this kind of village here in Colorado Springs! Preparation has already begun. A 17-acre parcel has been obtained in the South-east quadrant of the city. There are plans to build around 200 tiny homes with rents around $350 a month.
The SandCreek Village Foundation organizer has met local builders, stakeholder agencies, the county commissioners, mayor’s office and our City Council. They are ready to move in dirt now and begin building this summer. Zoning, planning and utility meetings are already in process.
Let’s call upon local government to do everything that they can to facilitate this process. Make zoning changes needed to accommodate tiny homes. Fast track the variances. Make sure the development gets a bus stop. Waive or decrease tap fees and let’s get people off the streets in this city!
Not only is this a viable alternative to homelessness, this is a great way to facilitate affordable housing for other individuals experiencing barriers to housing stability. Unlike Denver and Initiative 300 that will exponentially increase homelessness, Colorado Springs has yet another solution to bring to its continuum of care agencies that are actively working on lifting the unhoused.
Organizers are talking to officials statewide but believe that Colorado Springs is the best community to show the world how to do this in a healthy beautiful way.
Everyone can find out how to receive updates, attend events, volunteer and more at sandcreekvillagefoundation.org.
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.