[Hpn] Colo Springs Homeless Campus discussion (long)

Sun, 25 Jun 2000 14:34:31 -0400 (EDT)

The local debate continues....There would not be any "conspiricy theories" if 
the planning had taken place in open, public manner; as opposed to the 
stealthy behavior of the Red Cross and the El Pomar Foundation. 
Matt Parkhouse, RN; Colorado Springs, CO

<<Springs homeless center draws praise, ire
    By Erin Emery
    Denver Post Southern Colorado Bureau 

June 25, 2000 - COLORADO SPRINGS - John Hodgen refers to the new homeless 
center that is likely to be built across the street from his home as a "Wino 

To him, the proposed Montgomery Community Center is a one-stop shopping 
center for homeless services that will perpetuate homelessness and forever 
alter the character of his working- class Mill Street neighborhood, a mix of 
businesses and 40 bungalows tucked south of downtown.

The plan is to build a $6 million complex that would include a shelter, soup 
kitchen, medical clinic, teen center and drop-in center where homeless people 
could get mail, make phone calls, take showers and access computers. The 
two-story building would be constructed on land south of the Martin Drake 
Power Plant that Colorado Springs Utilities will lease to the Red Cross for 
$1 a year.

"We see this as an opportunity of a lifetime to develop what we see as a 
dream for clients and, yes, for staff," said Deb Mitguard, program manager 
for the Red Cross, the agency leading the effort to build the center, thanks 
to a $5 million donation from the El Pomar Foundation.

Now, services for homeless people are scattered throughout the downtown area. 
It's about a mile walk from the shelter to Marian House Soup Kitchen or to 
the medical clinic. The people who work with the homeless say that putting 
services under one roof will allow homeless people to more easily access 
services they need and, in turn, help them move off the streets. The shelter 
will have 400 beds, and an estimated 400 people a day are expected to eat at 
the soup kitchen.

Neighbors are worried about increased traffic, violence and property damage, 
but there are plenty of critics outside the neighborhood, too. Some believe 
the city is trying to move homeless people to an out-of-the way place, away 
from the new Confluence Park that voters agreed to spend $11 million to 
develop, and away from an area where a new convention center and Sky Sox 
stadium may one day be built.

Some say that if services are under one roof, homeless people won't have any 
incentive to move out of the area, and others think $6 million could be 
better spent providing affordable housing.

Matt Parkhouse, who has worked with homeless people for 20 years and is one 
of the center's most outspoken critics, wants to know what will be gained by 
putting services under one roof.

"I don't think this is going to work any better than it's already working 
now," Parkhouse said. "At the end of the day, we'll still have the same 
providers providing the same services in elegant new surroundings. It'll 
help, but it's not the highest use of $6 million." 

Mitguard said the reasons for putting services under one roof are abundant.

"Critics will say we shouldn't make it so easy for the clients," Mitguard 
said. But what many people do not understand is that most of the homeless 
people are already very depressed and discouraged, she said. If you ask them 
to make appointments in a city that has what Mitguard views as a poor public 
transportation system, then you're asking them to fail. The more they fail, 
the more their homelessness is perpetuated.

At the center, there will be plenty of rules. Anyone who is going to be at 
the shelter for more than two weeks will have to participate in a program 
that could involve job training, mental health counseling or alcohol and drug 
classes. People will not be allowed to stay at the shelter and lounge all day.

With care providers in one place, it will be easier for staff from different 
agencies to communicate. As it is now, a care provider at Pikes Peak Mental 
Health might spend all day playing phone tag with a care provider at the 
homeless clinic to formulate a plan for a client. By the time the two talk to 
each other, the opportunity to help might have been lost, Mitguard said.

In addition, the nicer digs will make homeless people and the staff feel 
better about themselves, and that will only encourage positive change, 
Mitguard said.

Even Ricki Stuart, who opposes the center and lives with the man who has 
tagged the center "Wino Wal-Mart," said she thinks the city's intentions are 

"I really believe that we're trying to be a city that stands out above all. 
That this will be something of a showcase - a showcase that says "We work 
with our homeless,' " she said. "But I myself believe it's an enabling 
factor. It's not realistic. In real life, you can't go next door and there's 
your doctor. You can't go next door and there's your food. You can't go next 
door and there's your bed."

Before any bulldozers move in, the center will need approval from the City 
Council and the Planning Commission, which is expected to consider the 
project Aug. 3.

Part of the worry is that residents believe their Mill Street neighborhood is 
under siege. Not only are they grappling with the new homeless center, but 
the Red Cross also wants to win approval to build a day care center across 
the street from the Montgomery Center, and Colorado Springs Utilities wants 
to build a rail spur through the neighborhood to make it easier to unload 
coal cars. In all, that would require the razing of 16 homes - nearly half 
the neighborhood.

"It's a lot to ask of the neighborhood," Mitguard said. "I like the 
neighborhood down there, and I do feel for them." At the same time, Mitguard 
said she also feels for the homeless.

She is partly amused and partly frustrated by what she terms the "conspiracy 
theories" that have been advanced by critics. For starters, if the goal was 
to rid the downtown area of homeless people, then the center would not be 
proposed in an area that is only a 10-minute walk from Confluence Park and 
the area where a convention center and Sky Sox stadium may be built, she said.

If the goal were to make the homeless less visible, then the center would be 
built by the airport or on Las Vegas Street by the El Paso County Criminal 
Justice Center, where some people have suggested it belongs. As for building 
$6 million worth of affordable housing for homeless people, Mitguard said 
she'd do it immediately if it would work.

"I wish the solution were that easy," Mitguard said, noting that homeless 
people need support services and often feel disconnected from their peers 
when they move off the streets and into housing. Service providers are 
"road-weary folks." she said. "If it were that easy, we'd move on and go work 
in bookstores and music stores where you could begin and end your day." 

The opinions of the homeless are as varied as the services they seek.

Eric Clark, 27, who is staying at the Red Cross Shelter on Sierra Madre 
Street, said, "Putting it all in one place makes a lot of sense. The Red 
Cross (shelter) has quite a few guys on crutches. They walk all the way up 
here to the Marian House, and it's just too hard on them." 

At the same time, Clark said, he thinks that centralizing services can be 
detrimental to neighborhoods. "In some places, it's like a canker sore," he 
said. "Those shelters breed squats and hideaways, and the neighborhoods 
become degenerated."

A man who identified himself as "Lonnie," and who said he camped out, thought 
the $6 million would be better spent on establishing affordable housing for 

But he thought the proposed center was needed, too.

"Could save some walking," he said.