From a small office building at 606 S. Tejon St. in downtown Colorado Springs, a 14-person team is working to end homelessness and addiction in the Pikes Peak region.
The team is that of Homeward Pikes Peak, a nonprofit, direct-service provider that focuses on housing and counseling people struggling to better their lives amid some of life’s most difficult challenges.
The nonprofit started in 2002 and has since grown to include four primary programs:
• Harbor House, a residential addiction recovery program that includes 18 months of transitional housing, intensive case management, treatment services, counseling, sponsorship and other support;
• Harbor House Clinic, a certified addiction-counseling center that also provides specialized women’s outpatient treatment and other support services;
• Housing First, a program that provides rental assistance and case management services to people struggling with chronic homelessness; and
• Veteran Specific Housing, an 18-month program that provides housing assistance to homeless veterans and their families.
“Of the 1,171 homeless in Colorado Springs, 228 had chronic substance abuse issues, and 236 had a serious mental illness,” according to homewardpp.org.
Of those people, the nonprofit currently is able to serve 84 people or families at a given time, regardless of their ability to pay. And by using HPP’s programming, the organization claims to save Colorado Springs taxpayers more than $2 million per year by reducing hospitalizations and dependence on emergency services.
“We create self-sufficiency, sober parents, effective employees and dignity,” according to the organization’s mission statement.
Executive Director Laura Fonner, who started as a case manager for the organization six years ago, said Homeward Pikes Peak’s primary mission is to “help the most vulnerable of our city’s addicted and homeless population,” which she said is no easy task.
“Our biggest struggles have to do with funding,” she said. “Our biggest supporter is [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] … and they deliberately leave you short, so we really struggle to raise the rest of the funding we need.”
Fonner clarified that 25 percent of the funding the nonprofit receives from HUD has to be matched with private dollars, which proves difficult for a variety of reasons. Not the least among those reasons is the general perception of a homeless population comprised of criminals.
“People think of the marijuana issue, and the panhandlers you see downtown,” she said. “And while there is some overlap, they’re completely separate from what we do. … These people are really struggling with mental illness — they’re not the people bugging everyone on the street corner.”
Despite funding constraints, Fonner said the organization continues to grow. Most recently, the nonprofit received funding from the state of Colorado and AspenPointe to increase the capacity of its sober-living program from 15 to 30. Homeward Pikes Peak currently serves around 150 people and families each year, according to Fonner.
“We’re full all the time,” she said. “We have very few people who don’t make it, because we do any and everything to keep people in housing.”
Fonner is leaving soon to move back to her home state of Virginia, but HPP already has hired her successor, Beth Hall Roalstad, a fixture on the local nonprofit scene who had been at Pikes Peak United Way.
Fonner said the most important goal is to provide more housing, and that she would one day like to see Homeward Pikes Peak own properties and work to increase accessibility to affordable housing.
“Homelessness aside, I don’t think we have enough affordable housing,” she said. “I don’t think that building an apartment complex specifically for our chronically homeless population will solve our citywide problem. … But I think it’s a really great start.”
Fonner but says that she has hopes that Homeward Pikes Peak will continue to become more involved in the community and be a champion for those in need.
“We really want to engage the community more and expand the way we raise funds.” n CSBJ