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One housing program's uncertain future could jeopardize the smooth migration out of homeless camps 

By the looks of it, the no-camping ordinance City Council passed in February sure seems to have worked. The downtown tents that once housed an estimated 350 people are mostly gone, and the cops have yet to issue a single ticket.

"So far we haven't really had any issues with anybody," says officer Brett Iverson, leader of the city's Homeless Outreach Team. "Even those who say they don't want the help are actually taking the help, and our hardcore guys that said, 'Go ahead and arrest me — I'm not going anywhere,' are actually moving in and getting the help."

The process has been greatly aided by the C-C Boarding Home Annex's homeless outreach program, which started in December. Located at 725 W. Cimarron St., in the Express Inn, the Annex program is funded by a $100,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation. It's thus far taken in and counseled over 180 people, 61 of whom have gotten jobs that should lead them to self-sufficiency.

There's only one problem: The grant will run out two months from now.

While Homeward Pikes Peak executive director Bob Holmes, who is running the Annex program, is actively searching for new funding — another $100,000 might keep the program going through October — none has emerged yet. Asked if they would consider giving more money, El Pomar officials declined to comment.

But that hasn't stopped Annex employees and volunteers from hoping for a break.

"The idea is to prove that we are doing such a great job that another grant comes through, because what we're doing, nobody's doing, and we're getting great results," says Annex community outreach director Brian Puerta, who adds that the program has been incredibly cost-effective. "If it closes, it's going to cost whoever twice as much to do a job that we're already doing."

If the program does shut down in June, dozens of people might need to find alternative shelter quickly, placing a significant burden on other already-strained agencies. It would also create a headache for police.

"The end of May, [then] June is coming up very quickly," Iverson says, "and we still have people to get off the streets."

A hand up

Back in September, 21-year-old Jason Stoops was working as a landscaper in the Springs. He was getting by OK, and thought he could easily find a job back in his home state of Michigan, where he'd be closer to friends and family. He moved. But it didn't work out. Michigan has the highest unemployment rate of any state in the nation, 14.1 percent in February.

After five months of crashing on the couches of friends and relatives, Stoops earned enough money to buy a train ticket back to the Springs.

"I was getting sick of exhausting the goodwill of those around me," he says.

Stoops has been here again for a few weeks now, living at the Salvation Army's R.J. Montgomery New Hope Center. He says he went door-to-door looking for a job right away, and ended up landing a part-time gig at Office Depot on Eighth Street. He's still hoping to get another part-time job so he can pull in a reasonable income.

But, despite being highly motivated, Stoops hasn't been able to find a lot of help.

"I'm too old to get some assistance," he says. "I'm too young to get others. I don't have a criminal history, which would actually help me in some instances. I don't have mental problems, though if I did I could find help."

(For more on this aspect of the city's homelessness problem, see "A place of their own," News, Feb. 25.)

Earlier this year, Stoops would have been the perfect candidate for the Annex program. Holmes had said he was looking to house "hard workers" there, meaning people who would find jobs and carve a path to independent living. Even now, the program is offering some residents free rent for weeks or even months after they land a job — so they can save enough money for a deposit and first month's rent on an apartment.

But the Annex program won't take Stoops now, because all of its 120 rooms are full — Holmes originally thought the program would have a much higher capacity, but that has not so far been the case — and there's a waiting list. If a room does come open, the Annex gives first preference to veterans, people with disabilities, families and tent campers that the police want to place.

Homeward Pikes Peak's Theresa McLaughlin says the program takes as many people as it can, when there are vacancies.

"It changes from day to day," she says, "because one day we'll have 10 rooms available and the next we don't have any."

Fortunately for Stoops, New Hope lately has been bending its rules on length-of-stay limits. In the past, you'd be booted after 14 days if you didn't get a full-time job (with some exceptions). The shelter's become more lenient because the economy has made job-finding so difficult. And, thanks largely to the Annex program, New Hope has had a reasonable amount of space; on a recent Monday, 66 of 200 beds were available. So they've let Stoops stay on.

Stepping up to the plate

Shelter director Gene Morris says New Hope is ready and willing to take on more residents: "Our doors are still open 'til we fill up, so that's not an issue."

Unfortunately, many local agencies don't have the room New Hope does.

Even after expanding its program, the Springs Rescue Mission, which helps addicted homeless men, has just five openings out of 47.

Urban Peak, which serves homeless youths, has two spaces for girls and a waiting list for boys. Executive director John McIlwee says he's not expecting a huge influx if the Annex program ends — there aren't many youths at Express Inn — but at this point it would be a challenge to place even a handful of teens.

One of the problems is that many programs don't have regular turnover because participants spend months, even years, in recovery programs. Worse, few new options are coming on the market.

There is one fresh resource. City Housing Development Manager Valorie Jordan says U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants have already provided 50 households with rent assistance. The money is for homeless families and individuals and the poor. Rent help is for three months initially, but can last as long as 18 months.

Jordan says it is estimated that the grants can help another 200 households, but cautions that the program is for "people who just need a little boost, not intensive services," and it has other restrictions as well.

Truth is, it's rare for any homeless program to have the flexibility Annex has, to take just about anyone and house them right away. And that's one reason it will be so difficult to replace.

stanley@csindy.com

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