The city of Colorado Springs has launched a new action plan to address homelessness by improving sheltering and housing options, and creating new programs around homeless work opportunities, veteran homelessness, a homeless outreach court and an ambassador program in the downtown and Old Colorado City areas.

The city also announced Tuesday that funds raised from the HelpCOS campaign will go to the Salvation Army and Springs Rescue Mission to expand the number of low-barrier shelter beds and services.

People can give to the campaign and directly support these service providers by texting HelpCOS to 667873 or visiting helpcos.org.

“By giving to HelpCOS, you will give shelter to homeless individuals battling the cold,” Mayor John Suthers said. “At the same time, you will empower our law enforcement agencies to enforce the camping ban and protect our community assets including our parks, waterways and rights of way.”

Giving to HelpCOS “is truly an impactful donation and one that will much more positively impact the issue than handing money to a panhandler,” Suthers said.

City Council President Richard Skorman will host three town hall meetings to gather public input on the plan. Those meetings will be held 6-7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Westside Community Center and 6-7:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at City Council Chambers. A third meeting will be scheduled in November. 

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“Ending homelessness means that we as a community have a systematic response that can address immediate needs, quickly connect people to housing and provide services to ensure long-term stability. It means that homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring,” the homelessness action plan states.

It notes that the Point in Time count conducted by more than 180 volunteers on Jan. 28 showed that there were at least 1,551 people experiencing homelessness in El Paso County that night.

That number included people in shelters and transitional housing and those who were unsheltered. The total unsheltered count was 513. The numbers are considered conservative estimates.

The homelessness action plan has eight goals, outlined below.

1.     Continue educating the public via the HelpCOS campaign. The HelpCOS website is a hub for homelessness issues in the community. The campaign aims to educate the public in how to give assistance most effectively by directing donations, resources and volunteerism to local services providers that can make a different. It also provides a directory of services for those who are seeking assistance.

2.     Add an additional 370 low-barrier shelter beds. The Point in Time count revealed a deficit in low-barrier shelter beds. The city is collaborating with service providers to add more than 300 additional low-barrier shelter beds, more than doubling the community’s capacity. Having additional beds also will enable the Colorado Springs Police Department to enforce the city’s creekside camping ban and will help protect the environment.

City Council took a step toward accomplishing this goal on Tuesday, Oct. 9, when councilors agreed to spend $500,000 from the general fund on shelter beds. The allocation, plus money from other public and private partners, will fund 220 low-barrier beds that will be established by the Salvation Army. Part of the funding also will go to the Springs Rescue Mission for another 150 beds there.

Those beds will boost the number of low-barrier beds to about 670.

According to Springs Rescue Mission’s website, “being a low-barrier shelter means we accept people as they are and provide a safe, warm place of shelter for those who may have no other option. While some shelters may require a homeless neighbor to be sober or pass a drug test, we don’t.”

3.     Implement a Homeless Outreach Court. Many homeless people have run afoul of the law and may have multiple pending cases, which tie up the Municipal Court system and are barriers to employment and housing. The goal of the Homeless Outreach Court is to help people experiencing homelessness resolve their cases.

Case managers help them find services they need to address the root causes of the offending behavior and move forward to a life off the streets.

4.     Establish a veteran housing incentive fund. The fund will be used by service providers to offer incentives to landlords to house veterans experiencing homelessness.

5.     Develop a comprehensive affordable housing plan. Many people experiencing homelessness can’t afford housing cost because they have no income or very low income. Citizens with disabilities and single mothers are among those with specialized housing needs. The city will begin developing a comprehensive housing plan next year to work toward sufficient housing for all citizens of Colorado Springs.

6.     Support funding for a homeless work program with area non-profits. The city plans to investigate the feasibility of a homeless-to-work program through a competitive RFP process. People in this program might pick up trash in parks and along trails and help clean up illegal campsites. Funding and nonprofit sponsorship for this program are being explored.

7.     Add Neighborhood Services staff to aid in cleaning up illegal camps. The draft budget submitted to council Oct. 1 includes funding for additional maintenance technicians to the Neighborhood Services staff to work with the Police Department’s homeless outreach team, and a full-time, senior maintenance technician to assist with larger cleanups.

8.     Develop a HelpCOS Ambassador Team for the downtown and Old Colorado City areas. The ambassadors will reach out to those experiencing homeless and connect them with services they need. It’s hoped that the presence of the ambassadors will help shoppers and tourists feel more comfortable downtown and in Old Colorado City, where many homeless people congregate.

Colorado Springs is modeling this effort on programs such as San Antonio’s Centro Ambassador program. There, the ambassadors not only reach out to homeless but act as concierges for tourists.

The full plan is on the city’s website.

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