Reaction to "Homeless Campus" in Colorado Springs (long)

HOBOMATT@aol.com
Wed, 16 Jun 1999 00:58:21 EDT


The following is from the local Colorado Springs paper. A couple of areas 
this article does not address is the size of the Soup Kitchen (which will 
feed up to 500 a day at the noon meal) or the fact that little of what is 
proposed is NEW services for the community.

Neighbors don’t want homeless shelter
Hillside residents circulate petition

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By Bill McKeown / The Gazette 
Story editor Valerie Wigglesworth; headline by Sarah Marquardt

Theresa Adams doesn’t look like a formidable foe.

The 31-year-old mother of three shuttles her young children hither and yon in 
a mauve Neon. She cleans and folds a never-ending pile of little T-shirts and 
sleepers. She plants daisies in her front yard for the neighborhood kids to 
pick. In what spare time she has, Adams cleans other people’s homes to 
supplement the family income.

Hardly the resume of a rebel.

Yet that’s exactly what the friendly, soft-spoken woman vows to become if the 
American Red Cross and several other social-service agencies try to build a 
state-of-the-art homeless shelter and soup kitchen near her home in the 
Hillside neighborhood.

“I’m going to fight this tooth and nail,” Adams said.

Adams probably won’t be storming City Hall alone in what is shaping up as a 
classic NIMBY, or “Not In My Back Yard”, battle over the estimated $2 million 
complex proposed at the southeast corner of Wahsatch Avenue and Costilla 
Street.

Already, a petition opposing the shelter is circulating, upset residents have 
fired off letters to local political leaders, and Hillside’s powerful 
neighborhood association has released a statement saying it “WILL NOT allow 
it to go forward against the will of the neighborhood.”

Interviews with nearly a dozen Hillside residents and officials revealed 
stiff opposition to the proposed shelter among those who live in the racially 
mixed, working-class neighborhood on the southeast edge of downtown.

They’re adamant a homeless shelter in their neighborhood — even on the 
periphery as proposed — would endanger their children, lower property values 
and derail their nationally recognized effort to rehabilitate Hillside, which 
once had a reputation as one of the roughest areas in town.

Those are understandable fears, said Debbie Mitguard, director of the present 
Red Cross shelter, located in a semi-industrial area on Sierra Madre Street. 
She conceded locating a homeless shelter in any neighborhood is a tough sell, 
let alone in one that takes pride in the way it has remade itself.

“We do understand they want to continue forward and don’t want to backtrack,” 
she said. “We don’t, either. We want to design a facility that blends in. We 
want to be good neighbors.”

As in many such conflicts, she and others said, there are legitimate concerns 
on both sides. Mitguard said agencies that serve the homeless are strung out 
throughout downtown, often struggling with inadequate facilities that don’t 
allow them to attack the problems of the homeless in a cohesive way.

The proposed shelter would change that. Housed in one landscaped compound 
would be the actual shelter, the Marian House soup kitchen now located on 
Bijou Street, dental, medical and psychiatric help, even services to help the 
homeless write resumes and travel to job interviews. The complex also would 
boast extensive shower and bathroom facilities.

Even residents stridently opposed to the shelter in Hillside say they 
understand the need for such a facility. Some have offered to help find 
another location; a few even have said the shelter might be acceptable if it 
housed only families.

“You have mixed feelings,” said Susie Rushmore, president of the neighborhood 
association. “You really want to help the families, but for many of the 
single men, homelessness is a way of life. We would still want the security 
that they wouldn’t infiltrate our neighborhood.”

Rushmore voiced a theme expressed by many Hillside residents: “When I bought 
my house almost nine years ago, my daughter’s friends asked her, ‘Why is she 
buying a house in THAT neighborhood?’

“There’s a lot of us who care about our neighborhood, and we’ve worked hard 
to upgrade it,” she said. “We just don’t think we’re going to get the 
security we need.”

The association’s former president, Steve Ferguson, thinks his fellow 
residents are overreacting. He finds traces of hypocrisy in some of the talk 
from residents, many of whom he says have felt the sting of NIMBY-like 
attitudes themselves based on their race or social status.

“Those of us who have tried and tried and tried and finally got a little 
piece of our earth, you’d think we’d be receptive to giving others the same 
opportunity,” Ferguson said. “Many people are using an exclusive language 
that rejects individuals who are not like them. It’s almost turning your back 
on your own legacy.

“We have an opportunity to say, ‘Here’s a chance to get on your feet, change 
your circumstances — and you’re welcome here.’ But I don’t hear that 
language. And that disturbs me.”

Ferguson, in fact, lost re-election to the association presidency after he 
publicly backed the project nearly a year ago. He said he’s not sure his 
defeat was solely because of his position, but he acknowledged he couldn’t 
name one resident who shares his support for the shelter.

Still, the association Ferguson once headed is leaving a little wiggle room 
for future negotiations. Angered that it was not made a partner in early 
discussions of the shelter location, the association has indicated it could 
rethink its position once a “lack of information, unanswered questions and 
unaddressed concerns” are addressed. In the end, the neighborhood association 
will adopt a position based on the will of residents, said director Jason 
Gaulden.

Today, Mitguard is expected to walk South Shooks Run Park with Theresa Adams, 
her husband, Wade, and other neighbors to get a feel for that will.

What Mitguard will find in the Adams’ neighborhood is a deep pride of place, 
born of resurrecting something near death, a common story in Hillside.

The Adamses, both 31, bought their small house in the 700 block of South 
Corona Street four years ago and moved in with just $100 left in their 
savings account. Neighbors told them their new home had once been a crack 
house.

In the years that followed, the Adamses imposed their personality on the 
place. They painted and plastered and planted a new lawn. They met their 
neighbors — and made friends. They grew to love the view out their window: 
Tree-lined South Shooks Run Park lies just across the street with 
playgrounds, well-tended grass and walking paths that have been a big hit 
with children.

“This is our first home. This house means everything to us,” said Wade, who 
works a full-time night job before heading to a technical college for a full 
day of classes. “We don’t want to move anywhere else.”

The Adamses fear the shelter proposed just northwest of them, across Shooks 
Run Creek, would pose a threat to their children, ages 8, 3 and 10 weeks.

“The shelter rejects a certain percentage of people (who show up drunk or 
high or who won’t agree to the rules),” Theresa Adams said. “We’re going to 
have those people living in the park.

“Am I not going to be able to sit in the yard at night with my family? Am I 
going to find someone asleep in my shed in the morning?”

Mitguard realizes such fears echo throughout the neighborhood — and the 
success of a new shelter depends on allaying them.

“People tend to look at the more visible aspects of the homeless — the 
freeway ramps, the folks downtown. But we serve such a huge variety of 
people. Not every homeless person is someone to be feared,” Mitguard said.

In fact, she said, probably half of the 180 or so people who stay at the 
current shelter each night are single women, couples and families. “I’d like 
to come into this process and say I’ve solved every problem and fear, but I 
can’t,” Mitguard said. “In my gut, I don’t think there is a huge problem with 
(neighborhood security). But I’m also in this office. I don’t live in the 
neighborhood.”


Bill McKeown is a general assignment reporter and may be reached at 636-0197 
or mckeown@gazette.com.



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