Responding to the call from Colorado Springs city leaders to shelter more homeless people, the Springs Rescue Mission is seeking to add 150 shelter beds and increase the nightly population of people at its campus to more than 550.
In the process, they hope to breathe new life into several stalled projects handicapped by a yearlong slowdown in new donations and other funding.
That juggling act — answer the city’s latest plea for help while salvaging key aspects of its all-encompassing service hub — represents the latest challenge for Springs Rescue Mission, which has taken a lead in addressing homelessness in Colorado Springs when few other nonprofits could or would.
It has completed or begun construction on three services the city never had: A year-round low-barrier shelter, a homeless day center and an apartment complex catering exclusively to homeless people.
And now it’s seeking to grow even further, despite a fundraising slump that has halted progress on several key aspects of its planned $28 million campus: A kitchen, a dining hall and a welcome center.
Larry Yonker, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, said the nonprofit remains committed to seeing its expansion through. The city’s need to adequately address the issue of homelessness, he said, leaves him with no choice.
“We’re in — we’re going to finish this,” Yonker said.
For the city’s point man on homelessness, those additions can’t arrive soon enough.
“Having a one-stop shop for people experiencing homelessness to access myriad services is an evidence-based practice that’s been used in other communities, one example being San Antonio,” said Andrew Phelps, the city’s homelessness prevention and response coordinator. “Just shelter and just housing aren’t enough; we need services for people to get back on their feet.”
“Finishing the campus expansion is very important to the city in addressing homelessness in our area,” Phelps added. “We need to get this campus finished.”
More shelter sought
The nonprofit’s latest endeavors come as Colorado Springs officials scramble for a way to shelter an additional 300 people by the end of the year.
Mayor John Suthers voiced that intent while pushing the City Council to approve an ordinance this month cracking down on creekside camping. The possibility of more housing proved key in clinching support for the ordinance.
Homeless advocates have long said that the city’s shelter space remains woefully inadequate, especially for people seeking a “low barrier” option where admission is based on behavior, not sobriety. They point to the fact that 513 people lived outside in January while most shelter beds were either full or inaccessible, according to the region’s last official homeless count.
That shortage remained a problem even after the opening and repeated expansions of the Springs Rescue Mission’s new shelter off Las Vegas Street, west of Tejon Street.
“There was such a desperate need for services that we’ve stepped in to fill,” said Travis Williams, the nonprofit’s director of development. “We’re playing catch-up.”
The city recently made available $1 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funding for organizations to seek. While previous grants have gone to improved sidewalks and community centers, this year’s priorities include the creation of low-barrier shelter beds and improved access for people with disabilities, city officials said.
Applications, which are due by the end of this week, are expected to include a bid by Springs Rescue Mission. The Salvation Army also is expected to seek some of that money for the addition of yet another 150 beds.
Finishing the campus
How the Springs Rescue Mission’s latest possible expansion fits into its overall plans for the campus hasn’t been finalized.
Its shelters routinely house almost 300 people, about twice as many every night as originally planned. The nonprofit originally envisioned one 168-bed shelter. But overwhelmed by demand, it opened a second shelter for women. And it laid out dozens of sleeping mats effectively doubling its capacity.
In the fiscal year ending June 30, it provided shelter to 2,532 people, one-fifth of whom were women.
And its day center also has been busy, with visitors taking 23,713 showers and completing 8,270 laundry cycles in that time. Visitors to the building sat down with specially trained guidance counselors more than 4,400 times, all with the goal of helping people get off the streets. And more than 20 other nonprofits and agencies spent time providing help and care on the campus, too.
Plans to further expand the nonprofit’s work, however, have hit some speed bumps.
The nonprofit originally planned to complete a second wave of projects — including a 200-person dining hall, a massive new kitchen and a welcome center — this year.
But fundraising for those has stalled, Yonker said, and the nonprofit has yet to announce headway on raising the final $2.5 million needed to finance those projects and break ground.
They attributed part of the slowdown in donations to the fact that homelessness remained visible throughout the community — dissuading some donors who envisioned the campus ending homelessness in the community.
Yonker and Williams said it was never intended to do that. Rather, they say, the campus is just one cog in a larger movement to address a complex issue. At the same time, annual surveys suggest the number of homeless people living in Colorado Springs has steadily risen in recent years.
In addition, some homeless people routinely avoid shelters, citing safety and health concerns, anxiety about sleeping with so many people in a confined space, a desire for the freedom of the outdoors and the fact that such facilities are run by faith-based nonprofits.
“We took on a pretty aggressive capital campaign,” Williams said. “Many people do one building at a time. We went for a whole campus.”
“We can only move as fast as the community can move with us,” he added.
Going without those new facilities could significantly hinder efforts at addressing homelessness here, city and other nonprofit leaders say.
Springs Rescue Mission serves breakfast and dinner at its campus in a dining hall that can only accommodate 65 people at a time. As a result, it must serve meals in shifts, leaving dozens of people to wait in lines often in the cold or rain for a chance to eat.
Getting lunch also requires a 1½-mile walk north to the Marian House.
“I really feel they’re the community leaders in low barrier sheltering, working with single homeless folks,” said Capt. David Kauffman of the Salvation Army, which operates the city’s other large homeless shelter. “It really is going to be the front end of addressing the issues in the city.”
Trying a new approach
As a result of the fundraising slowdown, the nonprofit’s leaders said they are re-envisioning plans for the campus.
One option includes moving its Supportive Family Services program elsewhere on campus, to allow the nonprofit to transform that building into a facility sheltering at least 150 additional people. The program features a store where impoverished families can get food, clothes and other household items for free.
Also, the nonprofit’s leaders are considering flipping their design plans, building their new kitchen, dining room and welcome center to the east of the current shelter and day center, rather than to the west.
Such a plan could save the nonprofit more than $1 million by locating those three facilities on more stable soil and reducing construction demands, Yonker said. But such savings also could be offset by adding shelter beds.
At least one part of the campus remains unfettered by that uncertainty.
Almost smack in the middle of its property exists the concrete foundation, two stairwells and an elevator tower that comprises the skeleton of an apartment complex being built for people experiencing homelessness.
Construction on the four-story building began late last year, and Yonker said it’s expected to be ready for tenants in March.
Called Greenway Flats, its 65 units promise a stark visual reminder of the possibilities at this campus — a distinct pathway from the streets, into shelter and finally housing.
Amid all the uncertainty at his campus, there’s one guiding principle that Yonker chooses to keep in focus.
“We gain nothing to perpetuate hopelessness,” Yonker said. “We need to perpetuate hope.”
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