Springs Rescue Mission is a “low-barrier” shelter — but what exactly does that mean?
Although the exact definition of “low-barrier” varies greatly depending on who you ask, it essentially means that the requirements for entry are limited or minimal. With a focus on “harm reduction,” low-barrier shelters encourage homeless individuals to seek resources by eliminating those obstacles.
“The overall thought process is to get as many people off the streets as possible,” said Guest Services Director Robert Farmer. “We open our doors, hold our arms out and everyone is welcome to come in. We’ve tried to remove every reason that might keep someone from coming to the shelter: no identification required, pets are welcome, we don’t do background checks, sobriety is not a requirement.”
The Mission began its transition to this model in 2016, after a City of Colorado Springs report indicated an urgent need for 370 additional low-barrier shelter beds in the community. Another report in 2018 revealed once again a 300-bed deficit in the community’s shelter programs, spurring local homeless service providers to action.
Responding to the call, the city’s two largest shelters — Springs Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army’s RJ Montgomery Center — began expanding to meet the growing demand. Springs Rescue Mission now offers 450 shelter beds, all of which are considered low-barrier.
“I think it’s necessary,” said Flix (a nickname), a guest of the entry shelter. “If you want to make people feel comfortable and welcome, you can’t ask too much of them — so I think it’s good not to make people jump through all kinds of hoops just to have a place to stay and something to eat.”
So what are the most common barriers people face when seeking help?
A 2016 study by the “Homeless Rights Advocacy Project” at Seattle University School of Law (Shut Out: How Barriers Often Prevent Meaningful Access to Emergency Shelter) included 70 barriers homeless men and women face when seeking shelter. Some of the most common are:
- sobriety (on-site breathalyzers and drug screens);
- rigid rules and requirements;
- strict curfews (without exception);
- admission dependent on chapel or class attendance;
- mandatory program participation;
- background checks;
- income requirements and verification;
- criminal records;
- credit checks; and
- forced labor participation.
But low-barrier doesn’t mean low standards.
Although Springs Rescue Mission has eliminated barriers to make shelter more accessible to those in need, shelter policy does prohibit the possession and use of drugs, alcohol and weapons in its facilities. There is also an expectation that guests obey the law and behave in a manner that is respectful, non-threatening and not overly disruptive.
“We try to make this a safe place that promotes their growth,” Farmer said. “We want the other guests to be comfortable and to get a good night’s rest.”
Springs Rescue Mission is a faith-based organization driven by a love for and obedience to God. Chief Development Officer Travis Williams said that was a major factor in SRM adopting the low-barrier model in its shelter programs.
“I think our faith really informs our campus strategy,” Williams said. “For us it means that you can come as you are and we’ll meet you there. We’ll do our best to welcome you and provide the best possible resources we can to help you achieve your housing, health, and employment goals.”
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