A Denver-based nonprofit agency that specializes in getting homeless youth and young adults off the streets and becoming self-supporting wants to offer homeless youth services on the city's West Side.
But the agency, Urban Peak, is being met with a loud chorus of Not In My Back Yard -- which has become a familiar song when it comes to proposed mental health programs, affordable housing and school projects in neighborhoods throughout Colorado Springs.
With a $400,000 Housing and Urban Development grant, Urban Peak wants to purchase and renovate the Old Colorado City Motel, near the intersection of 21st Street and West Colorado Avenue, a mixed-use, residential neighborhood on the west side of Colorado Springs. The money would be used to renovate eight single-occupancy, affordable housing units and to provide medical attention, education and legal assistance for homeless youth aged 15 to 20.
An anonymous flier distributed to homes throughout the neighborhood last week claimed the proposed facility would foster "a climate of violence," make the "historical business district and neighborhood parks ... nothing more than hangouts" and turn its residential streets into "conduits for transients and those who prey upon them."
An August 9 meeting between representatives from Urban Peak and the neighborhood group Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) was considerably more civil, but the comments and questions posed by the approximately 80 neighbors in attendance indicated that most were either skeptical of or opposed to the project.
Neighbors expressed concerns that the West Side is becoming a "dumping ground" for halfway houses, rehabilitation programs and affordable housing projects. Speakers also alleged that the homeless youth served by this program would attract "undesirable friends" who would make the facility and surrounding neighborhood a source of youthful noise and rowdiness.
"The West Side is becoming saturated with the homeless, with homes for the homeless, with rehab centers and sex offenders," complained resident Marge Wagner in a recent interview. In support of her contention she cited a police department document that lists 122 addresses in neighborhoods west of downtown as "the last known address given by known sex offenders at the time of their registration."
Spokespersons for Urban Peak say, however, that the neighbors' fears are misplaced and premature.
Escaping the streets
"The anonymous flier incorrectly characterizes this facility as a homeless shelter for violence-prone, drug-addicted homeless youth," said Urban Peak executive director Roxane White. "But it's not a shelter. It would be eight single-occupancy apartments inhabited by a manager and seven carefully-selected 18- to 20-year-old young adults who have demonstrated a commitment to escaping life on the street and are working toward self-sufficiency."
White says that the facility's inhabitants would have disabilities ranging from a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse to physical handicaps or problems like schizophrenia or bipolar dysfunction, but they would be under the careful and ongoing treatment and monitored supervision of Urban Peak case managers.
"Everyone living there," White said, "would be in treatment programs while working in jobs and/or working toward their GED and/or attending vocational or college classes. The main point of the program is to get them stabilized and provide a situation where they're able eventually to move on and be fully self-supporting."
White said the project itself remains iffy. "We won't know until December at the earliest whether we get HUD funding," she said, adding that last year Housing and Urban Development didn't award Colorado Springs a single penny of funding for new projects.
"Even were we to get funding," White added, "odds are pretty high that the Old Colorado City Motel will be sold by the time we'd be in position to buy it."
According to the motel owner, Virginia Vialpando, a biker group wants to purchase the property and make it a motel that caters to bikers. A nearby bar is a favorite watering hole for motorcyclists.
"The HUD application process requires that we list an available, affordable site on our grant proposal," said White. "It's understood, because of how long it takes for the grant process to unfold, that it's often necessary to purchase a facility other than the one cited.
"This site fits our primary criteria of being on a bus route and it's affordable, but we looked at 17 other sites, too. It's one of many possible sites, some on the West Side, some not, that would work for us."
What we need
Not all West Siders oppose the project. Homeless advocate and West Sider Matt Parkhouse considers the Urban Peak project laudable and believes it would work well at the West Side motel locale.
"This project would be a positive step to address this city's homeless problem," he said. "These wouldn't be the kind of kids who think street life is exciting and interesting. They'd be kids who want to get off the street and are working to become self-supporting.
"I've argued all along that we shouldn't put the entire homeless population under one roof, like at the Red Cross shelter," Parkhouse continued. "It's a point in its favor that the facility is two miles away from magnets for homeless kids like Acacia Park, the soup kitchen and the Red Cross shelter. Plus, this would only be seven kids."
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