Why We Expanded Our Shelters and What That Means For Colorado Springs - Springs Rescue Mission Why We Expanded Our Shelters and What That Means For Colorado Springs - Springs Rescue Mission

woman_laying_on_benchWhen the snow starts falling and overnight temperatures start plummeting, spending a night on the streets of Colorado Springs becomes drastically more dangerous. Hypothermia and frostbite can occur quickly, threatening people’s lives and limbs.

Nobody should spend the night outside and unsheltered this time of year. So, are there enough shelter beds in Colorado Springs for people struggling with homelessness this winter?

Point In Time Survey

Pikes Peak United Way works with a collaborative group of local homeless service providers (Pikes Peak Continuum of Care) to organize and conduct a Point In Time (PIT) survey.

Once a year, volunteers and service providers count the number of people in emergency shelters, transitional housing, safe havens, and outdoor locations like parking lots, under bridges and public parks throughout Colorado Springs.

man_with_bag_full_of_belongingsIt’s not just a headcount, though. People are asked to participate in a voluntary survey where they’re asked questions about the size of their household, their age, whether they’re a veteran, how long they’ve lived in Colorado Springs and how long they’ve been struggling with homelessness.

Additionally, clothing items like warm socks and winter gloves are handed out to help participants stay warmer because the survey typically happens during a cold, wintery night in January.

And this doesn’t just happen in Colorado Springs. Cities around the country conduct similar PIT surveys within their own communities.

How Accurate Are The Results?

Because the efforts are so well organized, the results are as accurate as possible. All homeless shelters in town participate and provide a headcount of guests. Additionally, virtually every public area where unsheltered people are known to spend the night is visited by volunteer groups.

woman_ready_for_warm_night_in_shelterHowever, there’s not a way to include the “hidden homeless” in the PIT survey because you can’t count what you can’t see. There are homeless individuals and families sleeping in cars, couch surfing with family and friends, or even spending the night with strangers in exchange for unlawful favors.

So, PIT counts are always lower than the actual number of people struggling with homelessness.

With that in mind, here are the counts from the 2017 PIT survey conducted in January:

  • There were 1,415 people struggling with homelessness in Colorado Springs
  • 958 of them were staying in shelters
  • 457 of them were spending the night unsheltered
    • 130 were women, 4 were transgender and 323 were men
    • 23 were younger than 18 years old
    • 45 were between 18 and 24 years old
Is That High or Low for a City Our Size?

Looking at similarly sized cities in the Mid-West, Colorado Springs’ homeless population is high for a city our size.

City Estimated Population Sheltered People Unsheltered People Total Homeless Population % Unsheltered
Albuquerque, NM 559,277 934 384 1,318 29%
Austin, TX 947,890 1,202 834 2,036 41%
Boise, ID 223,154 722 111 833 13%
Colorado Springs, CO 465,101 958 457 1,415 32%
Omaha, NB 446,970 352 0 352 0%
Salt Lake City, UT 1,153,340 1,886 161 2,047 8%

During the PIT survey this past January, there were 966 shelter beds available in Colorado Springs. This number comes from the Continuum of Care’s Housing Inventory Count, which happens about the same time as the PIT survey.

men_getting_beds_ready_in_shelterAll but eight of the 966 shelter beds available in Colorado Springs were occupied. Sometimes, there are empty shelter beds in the midst of shelter shortages because they are reserved for children, women, or families.

So, for every three people struggling with homelessness in Colorado Springs last winter, two of them found a shelter bed but the third person had nowhere to go.

What Springs Rescue Mission Is Doing to Help

Last winter, our men and women’s shelters could accommodate 168 men and 32 women. That was a huge increase from the 65 emergency shelter beds we offered in 2015. But with the increased need for shelter beds in Colorado Springs this year, we’ve expanded our shelters again so 230 men and 70 women have a warm and safe place to sleep.

That’s a 50% increase in the number of people we can keep off the cold and dangerous streets this winter.

And when we expand our shelters, we have to expand programming across the board to accommodate the additional guests.

Our shelter guests receive a warm dinner and breakfast every day. With the expanded shelters, we’re now serving a record 500 meals every day. And it’s all getting prepped and cooked in a kitchen smaller than a two-car garage. Also, because our small dining hall only fits 65 people, we’re having to serve meals in multiple, 30-minute shifts every morning and evening.

Additionally, 33% of the men and 47% of the women who stay in our shelters visit with a client navigator afterward, starting down their pathway out of homelessness. So, as we increase the number of beds available, we’re needing to increase appointment slots and case managers to help guests find and receive health, housing, and employment services.

woman_with_bag_of_food_and_hygiene_itemsWe’re also offering hot showers and laundry services for shelter guests in our new resource center to help restore our guests’ dignity and improve their health. We rely on an army of volunteers to assist guests and keep everything organized so everyone has an opportunity to use our facilities. Now that we’ve expanded our shelters, we need dedicated volunteers more than ever.

And our shelter guests can join work crews to keep the shelters, resource center, and kitchen spotless. With more and more guests, it’s harder to keep the shelters spick-and-span, but we also have more shelter guests volunteering to help every day. Our guests are thankful for the opportunity to work, feel useful and give back to the community that has given them so much.

So, as you can see, increasing our shelter capacity has a snowball effect on all the services we provide, significantly increasing our need for community support and resources.

And we can’t do anything without the help of our community because 86% of our annual income comes in the form of private donations from individuals, churches, and local businesses.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Colorado Springs

This month marks the 21-year anniversary of a legacy of neighbors helping neighbors through Springs Rescue Mission.

Springs Rescue Mission was founded in 1996 by two humble leaders with a heart for Christ and their neighbors.

Paul and Marilyn Vyzourek didn’t see a homeless problem to fix in our city. Rather, they saw an opportunity to reach out and help a neighbor in need.

They helped however they could. They offered people rides to medical appointments and job interviews. They made sandwiches and handed them out in parks and under bridges. They took the time to sit down with their homeless neighbors, have a conversation and pray with them.

For over 21 years, tens of thousands of neighbors in the Pikes Peak Region have helped carry on the Vyzourek’s legacy of restoring homeless people’s dignity, humanity, and hope.

women_organizing_shoe_binNeighbors are donating metric tons of food, clothes, hygiene, and household items to feed and clothe neighbors.

Neighbors are volunteering hours of their precious time to serve meals, greet neighbors with a smile, help them navigate and use our facilities, and remind them that there’s always hope.

And neighbors are donating out of their own pockets so we can continue to serve our hurting neighbors. Just like the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, our generous donors demonstrate neighborly mercy and compassion to people they’ve never met before.

Neighbors helping neighbors. It’s not just a slogan. It’s how we operate. And it’s how we’ve operated for over 21 years.

Every service and opportunity we provide a neighbor struggling with homelessness, poverty, and addiction is made possible because the amazing people of Colorado Springs care about their less fortunate neighbors.

Learn more about how you can get involved and help us meet the growing needs of people struggling with homelessness, poverty and addiction.

And don’t forget to subscribe to our blog to receive regular updates about what’s going on around the Mission and read inspirational stories of restoration and hope from our guests.

  • Hobomatt

    Why aren’t the 67% of men and 53% of women offered/required to talk to a Client Navigator? The message transmitted (at least in part) to those folks is that homelessness is “OK” and acceptable. Homelessness is not OK and this needs to be communicated to the recipients of every handout given. A pair of socks? – Conversation about “what needs to happen to get you off the street”. A bed? – Conversation about “how we can help you off the street?” . A meal? -Conversation about “what are your plans”? And so on…. If someone identifies as “I am doing OK on the street”, it could be acceptable to say “Sorry, no more for now. We are not in the homeless enabling business.” Basically, you have to talk to everyone.
    Our town has gone WAY down the slippery slope of enabling homelessness. It is REALLY becoming noticeable and has to be costing SRM and other agencies community support. I’m well aware that the corporate model of providing help is different than agencies that that are predominantly volunteer (as Rescue Missions were, once upon a time), but there has been no public discussion regarding this serious issue of helping vs enabling.

  • Hobomatt

    I find it very discouraging that calls for conversation about the enabling issue have been met with silence. As the numbers of vagrants grow, citizens are well aware that they enjoy support for their lifestyle, at least in part, from the various agencies with their “no-questions asked” handouts. Most of the homeless population uses this aid to move in a positive direction. A significant minority (of an expanding number) use the handouts to support the vagrant lifestyle. I’m aware of donors who are feeling “it is OK to say no” to the requests for funds by the enabling agencies. I support this and would hope at least a couple of the homeless service providers would open the discussion about this problem. I’m sure the Mill Street folks (the SRM seems to be big on the “neighbors” thing) would appreciate a chance to voice concern about being overrun by enabled vagrants….. it doesn’t matter if they came here for legal weed or not. They are here and SOMETHING is promoting their staying here – it just might be that we are a “good place to be homeless”…

About the Author - Matt Stickel

Matt Stickel has been with Springs Rescue Mission for almost four years and is currently serving as the Marketing and Communications Manager. His great-great grandfather was an English carpenter who built some of the first houses along Tejon St. in the late 1800s. Matt's family has called this amazing city home for generations since. He enjoys hiking local trails and reading inspirational books every chance he gets.

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