Am I crazy or am I seeing homeless people everywhere? I suspect that you have been seeing them, too.
I am talking about people without a stable place to live. These folks are living in RVs, under bridges, in hotels, out of cars or camping outside. They don’t have apartments or houses.
I have been talking with the heads of local social work agencies. I want to give you a picture of what is happening in our community.
These quotes captured the problem.
Reach Pikes Peak — “We are having an explosion of requests for rental assistance in the Pikes Peak region. Rents are rising faster than the ability of tenants to pay. We need more funding.”
Springs Rescue Mission — “We are spinning our wheels without having enough transitional housing and affordable apartments for those who want to get out of homelessness.”
I offer you this assessment. Homelessness is increasing in Colorado Springs because rents in Colorado Springs are very high. Now, let’s talk about solutions that are working locally.
Transitional housing — the best short-term solution — teaches people how to maintain enough stability to move into an apartment that will be maintained by the client while also providing housing. These are the programs like Partners in Housing or the Crawford House. These programs do well in increasing self-sufficiency.
Surely the city and county can provide more funding for programs like these. We should reward success rates over 80 percent for getting people housed.
Shelters are supposed to be a temporary stop. Agencies such as Springs Rescue Mission or the Salvation Army are caring for chronically homeless people with mental health issues, disabilities and/or other serious problems. They do the best that they can.
The chronically homeless are the specific people with whom our housed citizens are the most upset. This part of the homeless population is often addicted, vagrant, mentally unstable or otherwise unable to care for themselves with much effectiveness. They need care in permanent supportive housing.
Shelters need to send their mentally and physically healthy people into transitional housing or to low-cost apartments. They see this. The Salvation Army has some transitional housing and low-cost apartments. The Springs Rescue Mission is building some apartments. Urban Peak does this often. Funding should be offered for these specific housing programs within shelters that increase self-sufficiency.
Some homeless people who are working are living in the shelters for six months or more because moving requires thousands of dollars. To get an apartment that costs $750 a month (if you can find one), requires first and last month rent plus a deposit. That is often $2,000 or more.
The best long-term solution to alleviate homelessness in Colorado Springs is more rental, utility assistance and low-cost apartments.
Our housing authority provides some subsidized housing. It helps families and individuals to maintain rent as they earn anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of our area median income, which is $65,000.
In Colorado Springs, low income often ranges from $19,000 to $32,000. Please see this clearly. Most often those homeless people in need of assistance to stabilize their rents are working.
Can we try to help working people? Of course, we can.
For these working people, local assistance agencies prevent homelessness with rental or utility assistance. These are agencies such as Reach Pikes Peak, Ecumenical Social Ministries or Westside Cares. They need more funding. I’d love to see the city and the county step up to the plate with increased funding for these agencies who are very effective in helping people back to self-sufficiency through short-term assistance.
Our city and county must support programs that offer rental or utility assistance, transitional, subsidized, and low-rate apartments or houses. We also need citizens to start more programs offering rental/utility assistance, halfway houses, transitional housing, sober living and low-cost or subsidized apartments.
Then we can put shelters in the proper place.
In fact, with enough below market rate housing and assistance to people keep becoming homeless in the first place, we may find that our need for shelters drops instead of increasing.
The investment is worth it.