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Mayor unveils homeless plan 

Mayor Steve Bach unveiled a plan last week intended to improve the lives of the city's homeless and bring the city in line with changing federal requirements.

"We have been working on this for, gosh, at least two years, if not longer," Bach told a crowd at a press conference. "And this plan ... brings a fresh focus to the growing problem of homelessness in Colorado Springs."

The "Initiative to End Homelessness in Colorado Springs" has six goals: to increase shelter beds, particularly in winter months; facilitate development of a day center; expand outreach programs; increase affordable housing; strengthen the "continuum of care"; and develop a 10-year plan to end homelessness. The city will not act as a direct service provider, but will work with local nonprofits and provide funding and leadership.

Senior economic vitality specialist Aimee Cox will lead the charge for the city (see here for more) with help from a trustee committee that includes a member who has been homeless. The city will offer at least $5 million from three federal grants along with additional general fund dollars, plus possible funding from competitive grant programs. Service providers would get the money by going through the Request for Proposal process, which will be specific for each of the city's priorities.

Cox says the new RFP process lets the city direct dollars to its top projects rather than just doling out money. The city points to some key statistics and facts to justify its priorities:

• The official homeless head count done in January 2013 found 473 of 526 available shelter beds were occupied. At the same time, 230 people reported being without shelter. Since then, the city has lost about 120 beds due to program closures. Since November, shelters have routinely operated beyond capacity, while many people remain on the streets.

• There is no large day center in the city where the homeless can seek shelter, resources and support.

• A study found that it costs taxpayers an estimated $57,760 a year to support a chronically homeless person who is living on the streets. That cost can be cut by as much as $30,000 a year if he is housed.

Bob Holmes, executive director of the homeless umbrella agency Homeward Pikes Peak, said the plan makes sense, so long as projects are well-funded.

"I think it's going to be a good thing overall," he says. "I'm happy to see the city get involved; that's not been the case in the past."

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