On Nov. 17, the first snowflakes touched down. The city's homeless — most of whom had nowhere to go — hunkered in tents and under tarps.
In a show of solidarity, dozens of housed people abandoned beds to sleep on the street for Urban Peak Colorado Springs' Night Out to End Youth Homelessness, a fundraising event for the youth shelter, which is a part of the Give! Campaign.
In south downtown, the final touches were being put on Springs Rescue Mission's new adult shelter. It would open the next day, offering warm beds to those who otherwise would have faced months of cold nights.
SRM's $3.2 million, 11,000 square foot, year-round, low-barrier shelter was originally slated to open Nov. 1, just in time to replace the patchwork of now-shuttered emergency shelters that have kept homeless people alive in recent winters. Construction delays forced a later opening, and SRM staff say the unusually warm autumn felt like a blessing.
"I was surprised that yesterday [the area saw] a record high," Travis Williams, SRM's vice president of advancement, said with a laugh on Nov. 17.
Earlier in the year, SRM allowed a homeless camp on their property to slowly expand, in recognition of the fact that its residents had nowhere else to go. The camp was disbanded in October, and SRM opened a 57-bed temporary shelter to house some of the campers. The opening of the shelter means the rest of the campers — many of whom felt safe at the complex at 5 W. Las Vegas St. — can now return, along with others who have made homes in creek beds and under bridges.
In addition to 168 beds, the new shelter has room for another 32 mats on the floor if the need is great. It's likely that the new shelter will house men for now, as that separate emergency shelter on the campus has room for 57 — beds that will now go to women exclusively.
The new, modern shelter is the first part of an expansion that will also include a day/resource center (opening in 2017), a much larger kitchen and dining hall (opening fall of 2018), and a welcome center (opening fall 2018). The city has helped SRM with the project by directing federal dollars its way, but much of the work is being funded by donations.
Williams says he wants the community to know that SRM leaders visited shelters all across the country before building this one, and that the main drive behind this was to provide its clients with "dignity." The space, which was built to be green and uses geothermal power, also features tables, coffee bars, and bathrooms with stalls. Williams says the construction includes counters made from old bowling alleys and decorative beams made from trees impacted by the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. Both were meant to be symbols of hope.
"It's a reminder," Williams says, "of taking old things and making them new."