[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,
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
"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
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.