Increased homelessness in Colorado Springs is leading to aggressive panhandling, trash and human waste on trails, while also damaging business.
What we think:
It’s going to take a village to help solve the problem — and local nonprofits addressing homelessness need business support.
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When business leaders traveled together two weeks ago to Charleston, S.C., they spent their free time comparing that city with Colorado Springs — but also discussing some issues that our city is currently facing.
And nearly every conversation led eventually to one topic: homelessness in Colorado Springs.
And it isn’t just business leaders talking about the homeless. It’s on social media, in the news, in city council discussions and on the minds of downtown developers. What can we, as a city, do to help the homeless and compassionately end the trash on the trails, remove tent cities and halt aggressive panhandling that some say keep people away from downtown Colorado Springs?
Economists and city planners say that more homeless and more panhandlers are a natural occurrence for cities with burgeoning economies. But the problem has grown to the point where something needs to be done.
Some have suggested tent cities on the east side of town, far from the city core. Others have suggested fines for campers on city trails along Fountain Creek. Still others have insisted that panhandling should be banned.
One thing has worked in other cities, and seems to be working in Charleston: Homes.
Charleston officials told the Springs delegation of one man in particular they didn’t think could be helped — the thought was that the individual wanted to be homeless. But once the man was in a permanent home, the rest followed: an end to drug use, an eventual job. Just the solid foundation of a place to sleep at night made the rest possible, they said.
Known as Housing First initiatives, the goal is to address the need for homes first, then work on other issues: jobs, drug counseling, behavioral health. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s been successful in other cities.
At least, the plans were successful — until affordable housing grew less affordable and waiting lists grew longer. And with the federal budget focused so strongly on national and border security, it seems unlikely that the city will see an increase in block-grant funding to create affordable homes for the homeless.
Thanks to both the Gallagher Amendment and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the state won’t be able to assist either.
So that leaves it up to those of us who live and work in Colorado Springs. We should all support the Springs Rescue Mission project to create additional shelter beds and to locate some Marian House functions to their location south of downtown.
Other housing advocates — like Homeward Pikes Peak and efforts from The Independence Center — also deserve support of the business community. If the number of homeless, which some say totals about 1,600 in the city limits, is affecting business, then businesses should provide support to organizations tasked with solving the homeless issue.
But we should always remember: These are people who deserve our compassion and our help. Not all of the people panhandling are homeless; not all of the people who are aggressive, rude and sometimes threatening are homeless. People who are littering the trails could learn respect both for themselves and for the outdoors, if given the opportunity.
Let’s be accountable to each other for creating the city we all want to live in. Colorado Springs can become a city that is compassionate, that supports nonprofits and the people they strive to assist — without criminalizing poverty.