Colorado Springs announces new partnership to further homeless solutions

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COLORADO SPRINGS — As homelessness drops to a five-year low in Colorado Springs, community leaders announce a partnership Thursday to continue the momentum.

Kaiser Permanente will donate $500,000 to create the Colorado Springs Housing and Homeless Services fund. Administered by Community Health Partnership, the fund will get to programs the city has found to be proven methods to get people into more permanent housing as well as ways to prevent people from getting to that point.

“This past year has shown us how vulnerable economic stability is for so many of us. There’s a very good chance that the veteran that lives down the street from you or the family living next door is one costly medical bill, or car repair, or missed paycheck from losing their home,” said Amber Ptak, the CEO of Community Health Partnership.

Kaiser helped expand the “Built for Zero” initiative to El Paso County, a national program that works with communities to “prove that it is possible to make homelessness rare and brief.”

With a focus on homeless veterans and people experiencing chronic homelessness, the fund will help advance evidence-based interventions to start a person’s path towards getting off the streets.

“I hear daily from citizens that are concerned about the environmental impacts from camping in our community, but more importantly, I hear the heartbreaking stories from citizens in need and desperately looking for help,” said Andy Phelps, the City of Colorado Springs Homelessness Prevention and Response Coordinator.

Phelps came to the city around five years ago. One of the first things he saw the city needed was more shelter beds. Then, he looked to change the access to get people into shelters. Phelps said low-barrier shelters, where sobriety is not required and pets are allowed, can make some of the most impactful differences in helping someone start on the path towards finding shelter.

Shelters are where people can build trust with social workers and councilors and getting a person in the door can start that conversation.

“We want to make that figurative doorway as big as possible because that’s where all the help is. All the case management, mental health management, all of that is inside the shelter system so we want to get people into shelters as quickly as possible,” Phelps said.

In the last five years, the city has made more of a focus on low-barrier shelter funding. 200 of those kinds of beds were added in 2019.

The city’s point in time count shows that people living without shelter has hit their lowest point since 2016. The approximate 20% decrease from 2019-2020 continued a two-year decrease.

“This is a very big deal, especially when compared to the increase of homelessness in other communities during this same time period,” said Phelps.

Statewide, homelessness increased by over 2% and increased over 6% in the Denver Metro area, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“That’s not off great consolation to all the people who send me nasty letters about homeless people when they’re riding on our trails and things like that,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said.

That sentiment is one of the reasons driving the new initiative announced Thursday. It builds on the “Continuum of Care” that the city and its partners have worked towards. The continuum uses several different programs from several different organizations to work to end homelessness. Enforcement of the city’s camping ban is crucial to that goal as well, as notices of resources are posted in the days and weeks leading up to camps being cleaned up.

“I truly believe that housing and case management are the answer to ending homelessness, although I think it’s important to keep enforcing camping ban ordinances,” Phelps said.

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