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Mayor unveils Homeless Initiative
10-year plan includes development of new 'day center'; 'community' to decide location

       Mayor Steve Bach, joined by his wife Suzi, revealed the outlines Jan. 29 of a multi-pronged plan for improving the lives of the city's homeless.
       In an informal presentation, he described his “Initiative to End Homelessness in Colorado Springs” as a “fresh focus” to the problem and said a 10-year plan is necessary to address it.
      

Moments before fire trucks arrive, flames crackle in the area of a transient camp along Fountain Creek near 25th Street last November. One of the goals of the mayor's Homeless Initiative is to get people off the streets and into housing.
Westside Pioneer file photo
Suzi particularly lamented the lack of affordable housing for single mothers - 81 percent of whom head families living below the poverty line. “We must give citizens experiencing homelessness both hope and a home,” she said.
       A centerpiece of the initiative would be the city's construction of a new “day center.” Its proposed location, design and size are not shown on the documents that accompanied the informal presentation; however, the documents state that such a facility is needed because “there is currently no single place where homeless individuals may seek shelter” during the day.
       The services/amenities to be provided at the center are listed as the following: showers and laundry facilities, case management and family connections, physical evaluations and treatment, job assistance and life skills services, community voice mail and lockers and storage bins.
       Regarding the center's location, city staffer Aimee Cox said (in answer to a question at the presentation), “We [the city] are making the funds available, but we're asking the community to tell us where to locate it.” She did not provide details on how that would occur, but noted that there will be “opportunities for public input.”
       Funding over a two-year span will be drawn from about $5 million that the city gets from three different federal programs, supplemented by city funds that currently pay for such programs as the Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team, transit passes and emergency shelter security. Other grants will also be sought, the Initiative documents state.
       The process to carry out the Initiative starts this week. The documents include a “Schedule of Action Items” beginning with the selection Jan. 31 of a consultant to provide an affordable-housing needs assessment.
       May 1 is when a request for proposals (RFP) will be released for the day center, the schedule also states.
       Other milestones in 2014 will include two RFPs for housing projects, one for “shelter services and outreach programs” and another for a “10-year strategic plan.”
       Since his election in 2011, Bach has spoken several times about solving the local homeless situation - the offshoots of which have been felt on the Westside in terms of illegal camping and panhandling - but this is the first time the scope of his ideas have been unveiled. In his comments, Bach praised existing local efforts to help the homeless - much of it through churches - but believes these can be bolstered with the city as “an enabler, facilitator and partner… We're not trying to take your place.”
       His Initiative is to be implemented through a mayor-appointed “senior staff person” who will work with a “trustee committee” consisting of “members from diverse segments of the community, including a member who has personally experienced homelessness.”
       The Homeless Initiative lists six numbered goals:
       1. Increase access to emergency shelter, especially during winter months.
       2. Facilitate development of a day center offering comprehensive services and amenities.
       3. Expand outreach programs to reduce street homelessness.
       4. Increase access to stable and affordable housing.
       5. Strengthen the city's Continuum of Care (CoC - through a governing board to be named this year, its job would be “coordinating housing and service providers on a local level”).
       6. Develop a 10-year plan to end homelessness with strong community buy-in.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 1/29/14)