* This Letter to the Editor was written in response to an article titled “Chronic homeless population swells in El Paso County during annual headcount” which appeared in Colorado Springs Gazette on Friday, July 22 and will appear in the Tuesday, July 26 issue of the Gazette.
By Jack Briggs, President & CEO of Springs Rescue Mission"At Springs Rescue Mission, we look homelessness in Colorado Springs and El Paso County in the eyes every day. We are on the front lines of a tough issue that affects the lives of our neighbors and friends.Unfortunately, the Colorado Springs Gazette’s June 22 front-page article “Chronic homeless population swells in El Paso County during annual head count” does not clearly articulate the true progress our community is making in the fight against homelessness.It is no secret that increased housing insecurity is being felt throughout the nation. Stories of exploding homeless populations in U.S. cities are now common. The economy, housing prices, rising rents, unemployment, the opioid epidemic and mental illness are all weighing on how individuals and families navigate their day-to-day lives. In a growing number of situations, these pressures are leading to housing insecurity and homelessness.The Gazette article focuses on a rise in the total number of homeless individuals in El Paso County, but it misses the more nuanced truth: that our community has been incredibly successful in sheltering those in need.The “Point in Time” survey indicates that Colorado Springs has seen an uptick in homelessness from 1,339 in 2020 to 1,443 in 2022 — an increase of 104. But over that same timeframe, the total number of unsheltered individuals — those living on the streets — actually DECREASED from 358 to 267.That’s a big deal. It means that there are 91 fewer people who are being exposed to violent crime, harsh weather conditions and lack of care. It is also the continuation of a positive trend we’ve seen since the number of unsheltered reached a high of 513 in 2018. That means that nearly half of those unsheltered four short years ago now have a safe place to sleep at night.Colorado Gov. Jared Polis even celebrated our community’s progress after the survey’s release, saying the state “wanted to learn from cities like Colorado Springs.”Yes, our community has a problem — like every major city in America — but we are also doing something about it. For the Mission, that looks like meeting people where they’re at and providing a holistic approach to recovery from homelessness, poverty and addiction. As we work with other service providers offering a variety of different approaches, we’re also seeing more people than ever before secure housing and escape the cycle of chronic homelessness.The community of Colorado Springs — service providers, governments, businesses, churches, families and individuals — has come together to ensure access to shelter and services for those in need.Together, we are helping more people stay off the streets and get the help they need. That is the message our community needs to know."* You can read the original Gazette article HERE.* This Letter to the Editor will also appear in tomorrow's Colorado Springs Gazette.