"Homeless Palace" In Colorado Springs (long)

Wed, 15 Dec 1999 18:06:25 EST

  From the Colorado Springs Gazette 12-15-99 

  Here's the latest on the "homeless campus" Six Million big ones, no new 
services-just the relocation of what this town already has. Also, it is being 
located in the exact spot that a decade and a half ago, the city bought 
several blocks of houses and razed them, due to unhealthy fallout from the 
power plant. When I think of what COUL BE DONE in the area of housing and 
homeless intervention with $6 million.....
Matthew Parkhouse, RN  Colorado Springs, CO  
<<<Downtown site picked for shelter

By Eric Gorski/The Gazette
Edited by Mike Braham; headline by Barry Noreen

The El Pomar Foundation and a coalition of social service agencies are 
finalizing a complex deal to build a $6 million center just south of 
downtown's Drake Power Plant that would centralize services for the city's 
homeless, The Gazette has learned.
Though details are still being worked out, the agreement has the support of 
key players and could end a long and troubled search for a site.

The center would be built on four acres of vacant land that Colorado Springs 
Utilities would in effect give away, leasing it for roughly $1 a year, 
officials said.

The project also involves the buyout of six private lots in a low-income 
neighborhood across the street, where a new child-care center would be built 
for the homeless-complex clients and neighborhood residents.

Organizers were all but forced to shop for new sites after residents of the 
Hillside neighborhood launched a vocal campaign over the summer opposing the 
initial choice, an old lumber yard at Wahsatch Avenue and Costilla Street. 
Doubts also arose about whether that site was big enough.

An agreement with Utilities would realize two years of work toward 
consolidating services for the homeless under one roof. The Red Cross would 
manage the complex and move its shelter there. An array of other services, 
from a soup kitchen to a dental clinic, would be based in the center.

Thayer Tutt, El Pomar's president and chief financial officer, said Tuesday 
the foundation has pledged $5 million to the project, which would make it the 
largest donation to a human-services project in El Pomar history. No city 
money would be used for construction, though Utilities would provide 
energy-efficient designs for the complex. The Red Cross is expected to 
contribute at least some of the remaining $1 million.

The proposal has been kept quiet partly because of fears that a controversy 
might derail the crucial element: the cooperation of Utilities.

The utility was approached in August after the acreage was singled out by the 
real-estate firm Griffis Blessing, which was brought in by El Pomar and 
donated staff time to search for a site, officials said. Organizers focused 
on downtown's outskirts to be near the homeless and public transportation 
while trying to avoid angering neighbors again.

Under the proposal, the city would lease the acreage south of the power 
plant, appraised at $380,000, to El Pomar or the Red Cross for roughly a $1 a 
year for several years. A week from today, Utilities Director Phil Tollefson 
is to present the proposal to the Utility Board, which is made up of City 
Council members.

While the situation with Utilities remained uncertain, Griffis Blessing in 
late October mailed letters to 35 property owners in a four-block area 
bordered on the west and east by Conejos and Sierra Madre streets and on the 
north and south by Fountain Boulevard and Mill Street, said Tony Koren, 
program officer for El Pomar. The letters offered residents 10 percent above 
the appraised value of their property. But the offer lacked key details: who 
the buyer was and why they wanted the land.

Tutt said one reason for the secrecy was that Utilities didn't fully come on 
board until the last two weeks. He said identifying the project as a homeless 
complex - certain to stir controversy - would put Tollefson "on the defensive 
without him knowing he could do it."

He also said El Pomar "didn't want to be held ransom" by residents who knew 
the well-heeled foundation was the buyer.

The foundation, however, doesn't need to buy all four blocks. To build the 
child-care center, it only needs to assemble an acre of contiguous land, 
Koren said.

The foundation, in fact, already has one area in mind on the east side of 
Conejos and west side of Baltic in the block just north of Mill Street. Two 
parcels there are owned by Utilities, four owners have agreed to contracts 
and two residents who haven't agreed to contracts are willing to negotiate, 
Tutt said.

One of those residents, Jeff Hovermale, 35, said he doesn't want to leave the 
104-year-old home he's worked hard to remodel. 

He hasn't decided how to respond to a counter-offer that includes $3,000 for 

"This may be displacing or creating a homeless situation for some people that 
live here," said Hovermale, who's upset about not being told about the plans 
from the start.

The fact that not everyone who got an offer will get a deal will surely anger 
some residents who were warm to the idea. The offers got a mixed reaction in 
the neighborhood, which has its share of homes beyond repair.

But there is a possibility of more buyouts in the future. One reason 
Utilities got involved is that it wants to build a rail spur through that 
same four-block area, perhaps in three or five years, Tollefson said.

The current spur can link to only one of two parallel railroad lines that run 
through the area. Because of that, one railroad company can charge the city a 
high rate for the delivery of coal to the power plant - some $10 million a 
year, Tollefson said. A new spur would, in theory, create competition between 
companies and drive down the utility's rates, saving ratepayers $500,000 to 
$1 million a year as well as clearing up other logistical problems with the 
existing tracks, Tollefson said. 

If the group headed by El Pomar were to buy property needed for the spur, 
Utilities would be willing to trade that land for the homeless complex land, 
Tollefson said. Those ideas are still in the discussion stage, and building 
the rail spur is not a condition of getting the homeless complex built, 
Tollefson said.

"We'd love to be a good corporate citizen and support the homeless shelter, 
and we will," he said. The project has the support of Mayor Mary Lou 

"I think it's a great collaboration," she said. "It's not like Utilities is 
getting into the homeless shelter business. We're just leasing the land. I 
think it's a great response to a community problem."

Homeless snapshot

The demographics of the local homeless population are hard to sketch. At the 
Marian House Soup Kitchen, the clientele is roughly 78 percent male and 22 
percent female. Debbie Mitguard of the American Red Cross said shelters are 
seeing more women and children, though single men still far outnumber them.

In 1998, more than 2,300 people stayed at the Red Cross shelter. The 
breakdown: 1,515 single men, 250 single women, 109 couples, 309 children; 
there were 135 families (82 single mothers, 43 two-parent, 10 single fathers) 
and 491 veterans.

What would center contain?

• Services for the homeless, now scattered throughout the city, would be 
concentrated in one building. The "anchor tenant" of the proposed Montgomery 
Community Center would be an American Red Cross shelter.

• The Marian House Soup Kitchen, run by Catholic Charities, would move from 
its location on West Bijou Street. Other local social service agencies would 
work with each other at the center to avoid duplicating services.

• Community Health Centers would run a medical and dental clinic. Other 
groups include Ecumenical Social Ministries, which does housing referrals, 
and Pikes Peak Mental Health, which provides counseling.

What's next?

On Wednesday, Dec. 22, Springs Utilities Director Phil Tollefson will present 
the homeless center proposal to the city's Utility Board - in other words, 
the City Council. The board will decide whether to give Tollefson the 
go-ahead to negotiate an agreement to lease utility-owned land south of the 
Drake Power Plant so the center could be built there.

Next, Springs Utilities, the El Pomar Foundation and the Red Cross would work 
together to submit a development plan requesting a zoning change to the city 
Planning Department, which would review it and make a recommendation. The 
proposal would then go before the city Planning Commission, with a chance for 
public comment.>>>