The bottom line? Colorado Springs does not have adequate shelter, and many won’t or can’t access shelters. Something must be done.
There are between 700-1300 people hiding and surviving unsheltered in Colorado Springs everyday. Why are they “hiding”? People living outside have to “hide” because it is illegal to camp anywhere in Colorado Springs. Not in public parks, open spaces, greenways, alleys, benches, etc. Nowhere. And if people are found camping by CSPD, they are forced to move along, or worse they get a citation for camping.
If people surviving outside get a citation, now they have a court date, which most people miss. Why do they miss their court dates? It’s not because they are slackers, or criminals, or derelict in their personal responsibilities. They often miss a court date because they can’t make it to court: they have displaced so far out they can’t get transportation into the courthouse, or they can’t afford a bus ticket, or they can’t bear to leave their only survival gear behind in camp. What good is it to make a court date if they return to an empty campsite? Many people choose to miss a court date and get a warrant than to risk loosing their gear and getting frostbite… or worse.
Why aren’t they in shelter? This is a deeply personal and complicated question. Many folks simply can’t access shelters. Either they are banned for some kind of violation, or they have some kind of mental illness that requires medication, or they are sex offenders, or they are on drugs, or drunk. In the most heartbreaking cases, they can’t access shelter because they have a child, and there are not any beds for minors available. Yes, you read that right: mothers and fathers with children are often turned away if there aren’t beds for minors. Yes, even though there are beds, if there are’t any for minors, parent and child are turned away. Other folks simply can’t stand being in shelters. While we have some nice shelters, they still are crowded, loud, smelly at times, and infectious diseases, body lice and scabies outbreaks are commonplace. Perhaps they have forms of mental illness that makes it hard to be around lots of people or noise. In short, it’s a very complicated issue and not as black and white as , “why aren’t they in the shelters?”.
But that’s assuming there’s any shelter to be had at all.
We don’t have enough shelter capacity in Colorado Springs
As we said above, there are between 700-1300 people living unsheltered everyday here. There are only 400-450 shelter beds (mats in some cases) depending on the time of year. That leaves 300-1000 people left outside to survive by camping in a city where camping is illegal.
RJ Montgomery (Salvation Army) has around 200 beds, but it is a high-barrier shelter. “High-barrier” means that they have a lot of requirements that need to be met for admission, no matter how cold it is outside. RJ Montgomery also employs many no-tolerance policies that can result in bans of 1 week, 3 months, 4 months, or even a year or more. They also give some folks permanent (red flag) bans. For example, if you are late for the 10pm curfew, you get a 4 month ban. RJ Montgomery regularly has 20-40 beds open every night, even in the coldest storms. The Coalition for Compassion and Action believes this is due to the fact that they regularly have 30-60 temporary bans in place, and over 30 permanent bans.
Want proof? A few blocks down the road from RJ Montgomery sits the Springs Rescue Mission, which has been over-capacity for almost every night of the winter since they opened in November 2016.
Springs Rescue Mission (SRM) regularly has 200 beds, and nearly 250-280 in the winter with overflow mat space. SRM is a low-barrier shelter, which means you can be drunk, high, mentally ill, a felon, banned from RJ, or simply freezing to death and they will take you. If it’s freezing out, SRM CEO Larry Yonker has promised the CCA, “We won’t turn anyone away. We’ll find a way to get them out of the cold.”
Even if we had double the shelter capacity (800 beds) and they were all low-barrier, Colorado Springs still wouldn’t have shelter for everyone who is freezing outside.