Say you have to get from the northeast to the southeast side of Colorado Springs, but you get around in an electric wheelchair that will lose its charge unless you plug in for half an hour mid-route. Or, you have to keep your ankle bracelet charged to stay on parole. Or, you need a working phone to communicate with your Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. These are just some of the reasons people may need to access power outlets at atypical hours. And many of those same people can't afford to buy something at a fast food joint or coffee shop just to hang around during their recharge.
The community gathering place in the Knob Hill neighborhood that meets this need, among many others, will lose its lease at the end of May. After that, the House of Misfits — a motorcycle ministry that serves people fallen on hard times — must vacate its current location at 2330 E. Platte Ave. It's not yet known where the low-barrier community center will relocate, since high rent prices and NIMBY attitudes pervade the city's downtown core.
Pastor Edwin "FedEx" Aldrich (his nickname short for ex-federal agent) and his wife, Karen, have worked with the Springs' homeless community for about a decade now. Their service model is more gritty than professional. And the childhood sweethearts didn't always wear leather jackets. Before FedEx got into motorcycles, they used to attend a Southern Baptist church on the Northside, across the street from a Harley-Davidson outlet. That's when he started riding with a motorcycle ministry that regularly visited homeless camps, served meals in parks and helped people find assistance.
"The thing with bikers is we don't have this façade like we're trying to look like good, clean people, you know," FedEx says. "So the homeless, they trust you more. Plus, most of us are vets."
The Aldriches helped found the Pikes Peak Biker Church and Set Free Ministries. (The latter is an addiction recovery group that still meets, despite a 2014 impersonation/robbery scandal that put its pastor, Rev. Michael Abromovich, behind bars.) Severing ties with Set Free, with whom they used to share a building, the Aldriches decided to sell their granite business to start their own full-time ministry.
Now, House of Misfits serves between 75 and 100 people a day, offering access to computers, coffee, laundry, showers and storage to anyone who needs it. Case management, spiritual counseling and miscellaneous help as needed are also available to those who seek it.
Asked what brought them to the center on April 14, most of the Misfits crowd note that this is the only spot around here that offers all these services. Some people also report fear of persecution downtown, having heard it's illegal to sit on sidewalks, or having encountered more cops on foot there. Others simply distrust the big shelters for having stricter behavior standards, higher demand for limited services and a reputation for bedbugs.
But, the center's appeal is also its undoing. Neighboring retailers and residents have grown frustrated with all the people who flock here, especially when they hang out on surrounding sidewalks and nearby parking lots.
"[Tenants] complain on and on to me," says Rev. Daniel Garrido, who pastors The Crossing Church, around the corner from House of Misfits. "Where do I begin?"
Garrido is the de facto landlord of the whole strip mall because his church's denomination owns all the property. He counts off issues that have arisen in the past year with more homeless people around: poop, pee, puke, syringes, condoms and trash. Homeless people sleep in his parking lot, he says, and smoke joints there too. He knows all this first-hand and because disgruntled business owners are always giving him an earful about it.
Garrido referenced the "better to teach a man how to fish" adage twice while expounding on the situation.
"One of these guys asked me for $5 once, so I said, 'You know what? How about you clean my parking lot and I give you $50?" And he said, 'No!' That's what happens when you give them food, shelter, money," he says. "They get used to it."
Garrido and his board of directors unanimously decided not to renew the Misfits' lease. But there are no hard feelings — Garrido calls FedEx "well-intentioned" and FedEx says he respects The Crossing's decision. Besides, Garrido notes, his congregation is doing their part for the needy: They give money, volunteer time and donate all sorts of stuff to the Springs Rescue Mission.
"We send it all there because they know what they're doing," he says about the city's biggest service provider, which is expanding rapidly. "They know what to do with them, so that alleviates us."
Though FedEx accepts the loss of his lease, he resents Garrido's last point. "It's not like the Rescue Mission is the only place in town," he says. "They couldn't serve the whole [homeless] population even if they wanted to."
SRM is set to open a new day center over the summer, with added laundry and shower facilities. It will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Regardless, the Aldriches are looking for a new place in Knob Hill. They're hopeful about a freestanding industrial property nearby, but a pot shop is first in line. "We're open to anything, really," FedEx says, "mostly a landlord who understands it's going to be a little messy."