[Hpn] Mega-Shelter gets approved in Colorado Springs
Fri, 17 Nov 2000 09:44:16 -0500 (EST)
This article from our "weekly alternative paper" is a pretty good description
of the process that resulted in the approval of the plan for our $6 million
mega-shelter. The organizer maintained a perfect record for a year of
avoiding any discussion of alternative metheds of addressing needs of
homeless people. Red Cross, El Pomar and the City have little to be proud of
in this destruction of a neighborhood for little gain in service provision.
Now, it is done. After a couple of shifts next week at the local Catholic
Worker House, I'll be feeling better.
Matt Parkhouse, RN;
Colorado Springs, CO
Their Finest Hour
After 16 hours of testimony, the City Council approves a controversial
by Cara DeGette
NOVEMBER 16, 2000:
The Colorado Springs City Council waited until the bars were long closed
before approving a massive one-stop homeless shopping mall that opponents say
is the death knell for one of the city's last remaining working-class
At 3:40 a.m. on Wednesday morning, after a marathon 16 hours of consideration
over the controversial issue, the City Council approved the 53,000 square
foot Montgomery Community Center (MCC) to be built south of downtown near the
Drake Power Plant. The center, modeled after a similar mega-homeless mall in
San Diego, will serve as an all-inclusive center that will house the Red
Cross homeless shelter, the city's soup kitchen and a myriad of other
services for the poor and homeless.
The powerful philanthropic El Pomar Foundation, which has teamed up with the
Red Cross and promised $5 million to the project, initially threatened to
withdraw its support after the city's planning commission rejected the
proposal in August. Then, commissioners voted 5-1 that the facility was not
compatible and would overwhelm the surrounding neighborhood. The nonprofit
groups appealed the decision to the City Council.
And, late last week, Red Cross executives threw another bullying tactic at
the city's elected leaders when someone allegedly leaked a threat to a
Gazette reporter that after 16 years, the nonprofit was considering pulling
out of the homeless shelter business altogether if their new center was not
On Tuesday, Red Cross board of director chairwoman Sarah Jack said that the
agency was not trying to threaten Council. While the option had been raised
during a recent executive board meeting, Jack noted, "it wasn't supposed to
get out" to the public.
On to council
Tuesday morning, Jon Stepleton, the vice president of the Gazette and a
member of the Red Cross board of directors, opened up what became a 6
1/2-hour presentation by a legion of supporters detailing why they believe
the one-stop center is best for Colorado Springs.
Stepleton spoke of his "personal journey" into the world of the homeless,
recounting the tale of how on Thanksgiving Day five years ago he visited the
homeless shelter and watched as then-shelter director Deb Mitguard, whom he
described as an "angel," interacted with a small child.
Mitguard, now the MCC project director, spent several hours detailing their
dream of providing a place that would offer a myriad of services under one
roof to the city's down and out.
Kyle Blakely, an MCC steering committee member who was Mayor Mary Lou
Makepeace's campaign manager last year, unveiled a video of a similar
homeless "campus model" in San Diego.
The video featured Joe Carroll, a Catholic priest, talking about the success
story there and extending a personal wish that he will travel to Colorado
Springs to help with ribbon cutting ceremonies for a similar campus here.
Going full circle
Just after breaking for dinner at 6:30 p.m., the mayor told the Independent
that she intended to keep her morning promise to the crowd and let people
speak about anything they wanted to say for as long as they wanted. "I didn't
realize how many people would have so much to say," Makepeace said.
After dinner, beginning at approximately 7:40 p.m., opponents who had been
waiting nearly 12 hours to speak, were allowed to weigh in on the massive
complex that they believe threatens their personal safety, their quality of
life and their property values.
The Mill Street neighbor's complaints have been well documented: They are
worried about the impact from nearly 500 homeless and down-and-out people who
will be coming into their tiny, five-block long neighborhood every day of the
year to access the shelter. They worry about the "hardcore" homeless people
who may be drunk or high and turned away from the shelter into their
neighborhood without acceptable security measures in place.
And, Lyn Akers, who has been leading the fight on behalf of the Mill Street
neighbors, also weighed in via a videotaped interview. Suffering from cancer,
Akers was too ill to attend the Council hearing, but calmly asked the council
to consider the wisdom of putting a neighborhood at risk -- and pushing
through a non-urgent proposal.
"We are under no crisis right now, we have time to sit down and figure out
how to do this," Akers said.
Many Mill Street residents who already encounter homeless in their
neighborhood, pointed out the issue is not a NIMBY concern. Many opponents
pointed out that the city is avoiding the real problem -- a dearth of
affordable and low-income housing.
And attorney Steve Mullens provided his own version of what he believes would
be a misguided effort -- taking the homeless out of the mainstream, and
institutionalizing them, Gulag-style, "in the eerie shadow of the Nixon Power
By midnight, the government hearing seemed more like a surreal performing
arts hall, with Mayor Makepeace leaving the floor open to anyone who wanted
to speak about anything even vaguely related to the shelter or the topic of
At 12:25 a.m., Colorado Springs resident Angelo Christopher took the podium,
the first time the 50-year Colorado Springs resident has ever appeared before
the City Council.
Christopher noted that he had been waiting his turn to talk since 8 a.m. the
previous day. "[I was] hoping to say good morning, then good afternoon, then
good evening and now it's good morning again," Christopher said to the
elected officials, drawing roars of laughter from the audience.
For nearly a half-hour, Christopher took the crowd through the spirited
details of his career -- including his days teaching at South Jr. High
School, and his elation when Lyndon B. Johnson announced the country's
official War on Poverty.
"I said, 'It's about time,' " Christopher recalled.
Christopher eventually became the local executive director of the War on
Poverty, and helped open various centers around the city where they were
needed, including what eventually became the Hillside Community Center.
He urged the Council to consider a similar tactic of offering satellite
service centers around an increasingly sprawling city, rather than dumping
everything into one big complex. A one-stop homeless mall might be helpful
for the agencies who provide social services, he said, but not necessarily
for the poor people who will use them.
Stop making sense
At 2:30 a.m., with 100 people still looking on, the City Council appeared on
its way to a serious meltdown.
"If I can think clearly this time of night, the concern out there is that
when men are sleeping under bushes and intimidating people the fear
increases," Makepeace said.
Shortly thereafter, a "quick break" was ordered, and the Council disappeared
into their private chambers.
Meanwhile, a group of El Pomar and Red Cross shelter proponents gathered in a
power huddle in one corner of the meeting room. In another section of the
room, top city managers put their heads together.
At 2:42 a.m., shelter opponent Matt Parkhouse questioned the wisdom of
continuing a discussion over such a serious matter at that hour of the night.
"I desperately hope [the Council] says no and I desperately hope the Red
Cross doesn't take their marbles and go home," Parkhouse said. "If they OK
this tonight the whole process will be tainted and they will have destroyed a
At 2:45 a.m., the mayor reconvened the Council and noted, "Let's see if we
can come to closure."
Some new ideas
But that was not to be. At 2:50 a.m., Councilman Richard Skorman summoned
city Senior Transportation Planner Tim Roberts, asking him, "How do you feel
with all the talk about traffic?" To which Roberts replied, "It's real, there
are safety issues here [but] I don't have an answer."
At 3:08, Councilman Ted Eastburn veered in another direction -- calling for
less asphalt. He and Makepeace suddenly became architects, arguing over the
size, scope and "footprint" of the proposed structure. "Could it be
downsized?" Eastburn wondered.
"You don't have to redraw the plan tonight," noted city planner Quinn Peitz.
At 3:14 a.m., Councilwoman Linda Barley started asking for traffic patterns
A minute later, Councilwoman Judy Noyes seized on the traffic issue and asked
Roberts whether Mill Street could be narrowed, to reduce the amount of
traffic headed that way.
At 3:23 a.m., Councilman Lionel Rivera formally proposed removing the soup
kitchen from the one-stop shopping mall, and eliminating much of the foot
traffic through the neighborhood. Otherwise the project would be approved.
Skorman seconded the motion, opining that the impact from the estimated 500
additional people descending on the tiny neighborhood every day, 365 days a
year, was too much. "It's too big, too much for the neighborhood," Skorman
That measure was defeated 5-3, with Eastburn, Barley, Makepeace, Noyes and
Null in opposition.
The witching hour
Null then moved to approve the shelter, with a few contingencies that brought
new confusion to the drama.
Essentially, Null proposed that the shelter keep the soup kitchen but
eliminate the overnight temporary shelter that Marian House currently offers
to that hard-core homeless population when temperatures dip below zero.
By this time of night the mayor was calling the overnight temporary shelter
the "temperature thing."
At 3:40 a.m., with Skorman and Rivera protesting the negative impact on the
tiny neighborhood -- a punch-drunk City Council voted 6-2 to approve the
massive one-stop homeless mall. Councilman Bill Guman was home sick.
The Independent has reported extensively on the El Pomar Foundation and Red
Cross' plans to build a $5 million one-stop shopping mall, the Montgomery
Community Center. The saga started with their initial, unsuccessful attempt
to secretly install their massive one-stop homeless shelter in the Hillside
neighborhood southeast of downtown in 1999, and their subsequent push for the
project in the Mill Street neighborhood.