(PUEBLO, Colo.) — The Pueblo Rescue Mission (PRM) shelters two different types of residents: those who are in the Mission’s Step Back In program and those who come amidst emergencies.

The Step Back In program is for those who are there to work on the issues that led to their homelessness, according to PRM Executive Director Melanie Rapier, issues like substance use, mental illness, and poor financial management.

Emergency services clients come to the shelter nightly but especially during cold weather events like the last weekend in January. PRM has 95 beds, 60 for men and 35 for women, and residents are assigned bunks while the emergency services clients will get what is available.

“Every night in the evening we take in emergency services clients until we’re filled up, and then we also put those clients on the floor if we are filled up… and need additional space. The floor gives us a little bit more space to take in a little bit more,” Rapier said.

PRM has about 50 residents currently who are part of the Step Back In program. This allows for another 45 clients to come in but the shelter has been averaging 30 to 37 according to Rapier. When the city of Pueblo makes a declaration of temporary housing and shelter emergency, PRM’s numbers go down because there’s a church that serves that need.

Food and meals are heavily impacted by cold weather events. “In the months of October and November we served over 6,000 meals and in just the month of December, we served almost 7,300 meals, so in the month of December we served more than we did in the two months prior,” Rapier said.

PRM is still serving the nightly hot meal at 4:30 p.m. but when emergency services clients come in later, they too need to be fed. When the weather is too cold for clients to even venture a few blocks to the soup kitchen, PRM is feeding them, which also takes a heavier toll on resources.

Bedding is another resource people may not consider in the running of a shelter. The laundry services for bedding, per Rapier, cost around two to three times more when more clients are seeking shelter from frigid temperatures.

“When we have more people in the shelter, the largest increase [need] we have is staffing. Staffing is a huge struggle and a huge need when you’re bringing in more emergency services clients because you’re talking about a different population that requires more of a security type presence,” Rapier said.

The biggest resource Rapier thinks would be of benefit is a bigger building.

I think it’s a disservice to shuffle people to churches and a bus station, because all you’re doing is putting a bandaid on that and you’re giving them shelter for the night. The idea is to engage with these people and connect with them so that you can build relationships, and build trust, and encourage those people to accept resources that will get them off of the street permanently, but you have to be able to make those connections.

Melanie Rapier, Pueblo Rescue Mission Executive Director

Rapier talked about some of the homeless population in Pueblo being service-resistant, meaning they are guarded and lack trust in social services. This is a barrier to them seeking resources and help, and something Rapier would like to see overcome by building trust and having them come to PRM.

“In terms of resources for what we need now, we take donations of food, we take donations of clothing, practical stuff. We’re handing out sleeping bags and tents and blankets like crazy for those that are service resistant and don’t want to come into the shelter,” Rapier said.

PRM has plans in the works to expand the shelter to encompass a neighboring property in time for autumn of 2023.