As Colorado communities grapple with the growing ranks of the homeless, especially those thronging the streets and camping in public spaces, political and civic leaders have been searching the country for success stories in cities facing similar challenges.
It turns out a possible model for effectively tackling homelessness can be found in the middle of the Front Range at the foot of Pikes Peak. An analysis of the numbers of the homeless around the state suggests Colorado Springs offers new hope.
Colorado's Common Sense Institute studied years of results from the annual homelessness census, the Point in Time survey — used by communities to tap federal funding for homeless services. It concluded 'unlike several places in the Denver metro area and the region as a whole, Colorado Springs is not experiencing a significant rise in its homeless population.'
Common Sense issued a report late last month summarizing the Colorado Springs findings and comparing them with data from Denver, where homelessness and spending on it continue to rise. Common Sense projected last fall that the Denver metro area will spend an astounding $660 million in public and private dollars this year on homeless services.
By contrast, the new report found Colorado Springs 'is facing much more promising trends, with respect to its homeless population and shelter supply, than the Denver metro area.'
The data on Colorado Springs show:
The overall homeless population is stable.
The population of those living on the streets 'is rapidly decreasing.'
Over the past five years, the number of homeless has fallen.
What is the source of these patterns?
According to the report, much of Colorado Springs' success can be attributed to the $18million expansion of Springs Rescue Mission, which is the largest shelter for the homeless in the city. The facility was transformed into a safe, 14-acre campus that offers wide-ranging services for the homeless. The shelter's capacity increased from 37 to 450 people.
According to the report, other Colorado cities, including Aurora, are considering Colorado Springs' model of a campus that connects homeless people with a variety of services, such as counseling and mental health care, employment, and addiction counseling.
'The city's experience offers evidence that local policy innovations, good governance, and strong public-private partnerships can lead to improved outcomes,' the report says.
To that, we'd add that it also requires willpower by local authorities in any city to lead people in need to a place such as a homeless-services campus where their needs can be met. That means moving the chronically homeless out of the urban camps that feed their addictions and foster crime and violence.
A lack of such resolve by City Hall in Denver could be another reason the city has been less successful than Colorado Springs in addressing homelessness.
As Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers observed in a Gazette report the other day on the Common Sense data, 'It is very clear to me that they are not enforcing the camping bans in Denver … and frankly, I don't understand why.'
Many Denver residents would agree.
It makes sense for Colorado communities to work together on homelessness not only to coordinate resources and responses but also to learn from each other's experiences in mapping out a broader strategy.
The quest begins with an effort such as Common Sense Institute's, compiling the most accurate and meaningful statistics available on the homeless. In today's Gazette Perspective section, the institute's executive director, Kelly Caufield, provides an overview of that effort, focusing on Colorado Springs and Denver as well as Grand Junction. It's well worth reading.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE GAZETTE