Story by Anne Beach
“There are too many people who believe that homelessness is a choice: A way to blow off the responsibilities of citizenship in favor of living on the streets and taking advantage of free handouts.
Yes, it is true that some of the homeless could be employed. But that’s not true of the majority. The majority suffer from severe addiction, serious mental illness and major trauma. Few have the skills necessary to get a job — much less hold on to one. And there is nowhere for them to go to get the help they need. But, because of the Springs Rescue Mission, there is hope.
A little bit of history …
In the 1960s, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson introduced policies and programs intended to reform mental illness care and end poverty. Johnson coined a term for it: The Great Society. The result was that most of the psychiatric hospitals nationwide were closed, and the mentally ill were sent back to their communities to be cared for. But the communities failed miserably, leaving the mentally ill with no place to go but the streets. Add severe PTSD and drug addiction from the Vietnam War to the mix and you have a whole new group experiencing homelessness. Life on the streets becomes replicated through family generations. Drug use and mental illness become prevalent. And there is nowhere to go for help.
Local hospitals will admit you — but 72 hours later you’re back on the street. Colorado has only two state-run psychiatric hospitals — Fort Logan in Denver and the state hospital in Pueblo. With a combined total of around 650 beds, it’s not even close to meeting Colorado’s needs. And state-run residential addiction treatment? I’m not even sure if there are two in all of Colorado. The rest require cash payment with some accepting some insurances, but still requiring an initial outlay of cash.
Drugs today are not like the drugs of our youth. They are much stronger and much more addictive. They do more than just offer a ‘high,’ they change the wiring of the brain.
We recently lost our 28-year-old son to an Oxycontin addiction formed after a ski accident and several surgeries. For three years, we supported him at rehab after rehab — some of the very best. Sam couldn’t escape the disease. Out of desperation, he took his own life.
The damaged brain wiring is real, and the disease takes everything good from the individual suffering from addiction. If our son couldn’t recover — how can someone living on the street?
Springs Rescue Mission doesn’t claim to be the answer — but it offers hope.
SRM offers a 12-month residential men’s recovery program, a four-month men’s and women’s Intensive Outpatient Program, 12-step meetings and an off-campus sober home. That’s a big deal.
For those looking for employment, SRM can help. And for those not able to hold down a job, SRM offers life skill classes and job training courses helping as many as 130 participants each day. For those needing housing, SRM case managers help guests apply for housing assistance programs.
SRM partners with more than a dozen agencies offering free dental, medical and mental health care. They regularly come to campus and meet with guests. On-campus Bible studies and a chaplain offer spiritual guidance. A vocational training program has guests working on campus running the showers and laundry services, cleaning up, working in the kitchen and helping keep the campus running — building their sense of worth and instilling in them that they do have something to contribute. That’s something many of them haven’t felt in a long time — if ever.
The Mission has also developed a culinary program for guests interested in the food industry. An outgrowth of this program are two business enterprises: the award-winning Mission Catering and Samaritan Coffee at 225. Both provide on-the-job training for men in the residential addiction recovery program.
Because of generous contributions from the community, one of the SRM’s recent accomplishments was to enclose their campus and create a single point of entry; thereby ensuring a safer and more secure campus that protects women fleeing human trafficking and domestic abuse. Although SRM is considered a low-barrier shelter, weapons, drugs and alcohol are not allowed to be brought on campus. Intake procedures and campus security ensure that rules are understood, kept and that civil behavior is expected.
There is so much going on at the Springs Rescue Mission, all aimed at helping guests become active members in our community. Until society steps up with solid solutions, we will have homelessness.
SRM is doing everything right to get them off the streets and giving them hope that real transformation is possible.”
This story originally appeared as a “letter to the editor” in the April 21st edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette.