While working as a youth pastor at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, Stu Davis took the young members of his church overseas to work in impoverished communities. One long-running partnership was with a community in Swaziland, located in southern Africa, which is grappling with one of the highest HIV rates on earth.
“We did community development work in this very destitute part of the country,” Davis said. “That really kind of pricked my heart for poverty. I started learning more about poverty alleviation and community development and figured out dumping a bunch of money into the problem doesn’t help. It’s developing relationships, trust-building and listening to people’s dreams for their own community and helping to make that happen. That’s universal.”
Davis, now community relations director at the Springs Rescue Mission, spoke with the Business Journal this week about what’s happening at the mission, the return-on-investment of helping those in need and creating opportunity for all.
What do you do at Springs Rescue Mission?
I’m the partnerships guy. Some is working with individual donors, but a lot is working with churches, businesses and supporting organizations. We’re working with a lot of for-profits and nonprofits that have a supportive role. I work with volunteers, financial donations, donation drives. Coming into this time of year, when it’s getting colder and the holidays are coming, there are lots of businesses doing coat drives and employee donation drives — lots of things to support the mission.
I’d say I spend 60 to 70 percent of my time in the community trying to build partnerships.
What’s happening on campus?
We’ve grown a lot. I’ve been here just under three years and I came on just as we were building momentum for our campus expansion.
We’ve gone from sheltering 65 a night in the winter of 2015-16 to now having two year-round shelters that allow us to shelter 280 in the summer, and in the winter, 350 or more.
We’re still expanding, with plans for a new dining hall, which is still a couple months away from breaking ground. … We really need a central location for meal services, particularly for our chronic homeless population. Our current dining hall can squeeze 65 at a time. But we’ll have 400 lining up out the door for dinner tonight. But we just opened our third new building in nine months.
What’s in the building?
Offices for about a dozen partner agencies. These are organizations we work with that have their own funding models, resources and programs, but instead of being spread all over parts of the community, we bring those resources to our campus.
How much funding is needed for the whole expansion?
We started our campaign with a $13.8 million target. Now we need a little over $15 million because we had lots of water issues when we first started. We have a water table 30 inches below the surface of our parking lot. Any time we punched a hole in the ground, there was water everywhere. We’re looking for about $15 million and we have just over $11 million in revenue or commitments.
What does poverty look like here?
There is a large hidden population — families that are struggling but maybe not identified as homeless.
We get data through a Point-in-Time survey, which is an annual census across the country administered by [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] to look at the domestic homeless population. It’s a sketch of what we know about homelessness.
Seventy percent of the local homeless population’s last-known address was in El Paso County, and 80 percent were living in Colorado. That’s contrary to popular opinion. … Twenty-six percent of El Paso County is living at or below the federal poverty line. That means 90,000 people are struggling to make ends meet.
What’s the return-on-investment supporting the mission?
The average chronic homeless individual will cost the community somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. That’s emergency response, criminal prosecution, incarceration, medical care — all those things. That same individual here will cost $4,000 to $7,000 a year. Talk about saving 90 percent per individual. Also having the ability to direct guests to a variety of services in one location keeps them from having to travel all over downtown. That means easier pedestrian access for the downtown population, which creates a more friendly business environment and more opportunities for people to get back on their feet.
I’d say it’s a pretty hard value proposition to turn down. n CSBJ