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Frigid shelter policies raise Council eyebrows 

Members of the Colorado Springs City Council are asking questions about the city's plan to ensure homeless people are not turned away from warmth in severe weather conditions.

The inquiries come on the heels of an Independent investigation that last week determined four homeless people have died of hypothermia on frigid nights in the city this year -- including three within the last two months.

"I'm, quite frankly, shocked that we're allowing this to happen," Councilman Richard Skorman says. "We need to get people out of the cold."

The city has designated New Hope Center, run by the Salvation Army, as the primary emergency shelter when nighttime temperatures dip to 10 degrees or the wind chill hits zero. The emergency shelter is supposed to help prevent cold-weather injuries and deaths among the homeless, says Steve Dubay, a former director of the city's emergency management office.

Last week, New Hope director Gene Morris said that regardless of whether officials declare an emergency, the center turns away people without identification cards who refuse to undergo a police background check, as well as youths under 18 unaccompanied by a parent.

Dubay says New Hope appears to be letting some homeless people slip through the cracks.

"From an emergency sheltering point of view, there is room for everybody -- even if they are uncooperative," Dubay says.

New Hope's agreement with the city calls for the shelter to grant emergency admittance on severe nights to individuals previously banned from the shelter for fighting, drinking or breaking other rules. The city provides up to $4,000 a year for additional security to handle them.

Yet that agreement, reviewed by the Independent, also allows the shelter to kick out anyone who breaks rules once admitted -- including smoking cigarettes in the bathroom.

Councilwoman Margaret Radford says she was unaware that youths could be turned away from New Hope, and says it shouldn't be happening. But she doesn't think New Hope is an appropriate place for people under 18, who may benefit from protective services.

A recent homeless census revealed that more than 500 people live on Colorado Springs streets. Yet New Hope regularly has fallen roughly 25 people short of its 200-bed capacity on emergency shelter nights.

Other shelters, and even the City Auditorium, could be tapped if New Hope fills up, according to the city's emergency shelter plan.

During the last three winter seasons, city officials declared weather emergencies an average of 10 nights during the winter.

This year may eclipse that average. Due to colder temperatures, officials already have designated nine emergency nights. The first day of winter was Wednesday.

Skorman and Radford say they will work this week to see what can be done to ensure that people who seek shelter on cold nights aren't left out.

"This is a priority that needs to be addressed," Skorman says.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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