[Hpn] Mega-Shelter gets approved in Colorado Springs

HOBOMATT@aol.com HOBOMATT@aol.com
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 
homeless complex
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 

After midnight 

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 
and playgrounds. 

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.

Editor's note: 

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.