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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Update: Colorado Springs homeless shelters see new challenges related to COVID-19

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2020 at 10:31 AM

Springs Rescue Mission has been encouraging people to keep the maximum spatial distance possible to prevent the spread of viruses. - THOMAS VOSS
  • Thomas Voss
  • Springs Rescue Mission has been encouraging people to keep the maximum spatial distance possible to prevent the spread of viruses.


The Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery announced it will keep its shelter and food pantry open to the community during this time.

"Following CDC and government recommendations, The Salvation Army has cancelled large meetings, after-school children’s programs and some other non-essential group meetings," the nonprofit said in a statement.

The Salvation Army's food pantry at 908 Yuma St. will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while the Colorado Kitchen at the same location will serve $2 to-go meals only at lunch and dinner.

Salvation Army staff have increased cleaning at shelters and kitchens, the statement said.

The nonprofit is in "desperate need" of nonperishable food items such as dried beans, rice, peanut butter, jelly, canned soup, canned chicken, tuna, dried pasta, pasta sauce and easy-to-make meals; as well as hand sanitizer for the shelter.

“The Salvation Army cares deeply for our clients, staff, volunteers and community. While we’re here all year long, we are stepping up our efforts during this time of uncertainty to be there for those who need us,” Captain Doug Hanson said in the statement.


In recent days, Springs Rescue Mission has been seeing more people than usual at its day services and resource center, says Chief Development Officer Travis Williams.

The center "can fill up rather quickly," Wiliams says. "It's not uncommon for us to have 150 to 200 individuals getting services every day out of the resource center."

Unlike its shelter, SRM's resource center is open during the daytime. And people who may have visited Pikes Peak Library District locations for resources, internet access or even a place to sit out of the cold can no longer go to the library — all PPLD locations closed March 16, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

At the resource center, where SRM provides laundry services, showers and access to partner agencies who can help individuals with food, employment and other assistance, Williams says the nonprofit saw about 30 more people than normal over the weekend.

And Williams expects new challenges as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.

"We don't have the luxury of closing down," he says, "because we are the primary place for people who need shelter to be, and people who need day services to be, and people who need showers and people who need meals."

Springs Rescue Mission, which operates the city's largest low-barrier shelter (sobriety is not a requirement), hasn't been filling all of its beds. The night of March 16, for example, the shelter had 70 beds unoccupied, down from 93 on March 15 and 104 on March 14.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery had 44 family beds open March 16. There was just one low-barrier bed unoccupied on the men's side of the shelter, and the low-barrier beds for women were full.

David Carter, 63,
is part of the unsheltered population in Manitou Springs. He generally avoids the Colorado Springs shelters out of preference, but says he's heard of others not going there specifically for fear of COVID-19.

"A lot of people say they won't go down there because of the cold and virus," Carter says.

Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions (including heart disease, diabetes or lung disease) are most at risk of severe symptoms from COVID-19. Much of the unhoused population fits in one or both of those categories.

Carter's own immediate concern: He's had a difficult time getting ahold of his primary care provider. He's left multiple voicemails over the past couple of days but they haven't been answered, he says.

He can take care of most services — such as food assistance and Social Security — over the phone, he says, but he's worried that his doctor's office has been overwhelmed by the call volume.

Carter's worried about catching the virus, too, but is doing his best to take extra prevention measures. For example, he helped sanitize St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Manitou Springs, where he was able to pick up a bagged lunch provided by nonprofit Silver Key Senior Services on March 17.

And if resources grow scarcer, Carter believes people experiencing homelessness will be able to rely on one another.

"We survive out here and do pretty well," Carter says. "We don't let each other go hungry."

To prevent the
spread of COVID-19 at the shelter, Williams says SRM has been encouraging guests to wash their hands and has hand sanitizer stations set up at the shelter's entrances.

"Now our challenge will be keeping hand sanitizer available, as it's so limited and our resources are becoming scarce," Williams says.

If someone having symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough, shortness of breath — shows up at the shelter, Williams says they are referred to a hospital or El Paso County Public Health.

"The challenge is that we do serve a vulnerable population, and many of them are struggling with health issues," Williams says. "Today, we're doing our best to be as aware as we possibly can to anybody who is having any kind of symptoms or illness or fever."

But that's not always easy, as SRM doesn't currently have thermometer scanners, which would be a "helpful resource," Williams says. Staff members have to determine whether someone has a fever based on their appearance and answers to questions.

"We have posters put up throughout the campus telling folks of the symptoms of coronavirus and encouraging them to cough into their elbow and keep as best spatial distance as possible," Williams also points out. "We're encouraging guests to sleep alternating from head to foot, foot to head, so that there's more spatial distance between individuals."

Springs Rescue Mission has postponed all group gatherings and events until after March 31 and has closed its donation dock. Nonessential staff are working remotely.

The shelter is also considering quarantine options for people showing symptoms, Williams says.

Overall, Williams says, the mood at the shelter has stayed relatively calm.

"For many of the folks who are on the campus," he says, "they've fought traumas that, at least to them, feel more real than this."
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Friday, March 13, 2020

COVID-19: State's first death in El Paso County and 72 cases in Colorado as of 12 p.m. March 13

Posted By on Fri, Mar 13, 2020 at 3:25 PM

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was counting 72 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 as of 12 p.m. March 13. The state's first death tied to the novel coronavirus occurred March 13, when an El Paso County woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions passed away.

"While we were expecting this day, it doesn't make it any less difficult to hear and share this news," Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement announcing the woman's death. "As a state we are in mourning and our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of the Coloradan we lost."

COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family of viruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces. Some coronaviruses lead to the common cold, while others — such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and COVID-19 — can lead to more serious symptoms in some people.

So far, two of Colorado's presumptive positive COVID-19 cases have occurred in El Paso County, according to CDPHE.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, runny nose, cough and breathing trouble. For most people, the symptoms are mild, but those with other medical complications are at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms such as pneumonia.

CDPHE advises people having symptoms to first call a health care provider, clinic or hospital. A provider can help you figure out whether to get tested for COVID-19.

For the duration of Gov. Jared Polis' emergency order, the state Division of Motor Vehicles has authorized counties to waive late fees on vehicle registration renewals.

The DMV offers many services online, including driver license renewals, records requests, ticket payments and more.

Silver Key Senior Services, which serves seniors in the Pikes Peak Region, announced a temporary change to its lunch programs in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For the time being, Silver Key will allow seniors to pick up "grab-and-go" lunches from normal community locations.

However, according to a March 13 statement from Silver Key, seniors will be allowed to lunch at the normal Connections Café locations if they so desire.

"This elective option was made after careful contemplation and discussion with experts and health officials to find the best solution to senior food insecurity needs as well as to avoid excessive social isolation," the statement explains. "Those who choose to dine at the Café, will be met with signage and informed staff who will advise about the need to be mindful of best practices in illness prevention including social distancing. Moreover, we will be increasing our cleaning protocols above and beyond our normal high-quality practices."

A list of lunch sites is available here.

Silver Key has suspended non-essential group gatherings, which include most Active Living meetings, the statement says. However, the nonprofit plans to continue services such as home-delivered meals, Reserve & Ride transportation, and food assistance, with extra safety protocols.

View Silver Key's full response plan online

Seniors in need can call Silver Key Senior Services' Silver Line at 719-884-2300.

Meanwhile, the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department announced March 13 that the Deerfield Hills, Meadows Park and Hillside community centers will suspend their programming starting March 16, until March 30. The facilities will undergo a deep cleaning during this time.

Youth and adult recreation services and activities will also be suspended until April 6, the Parks department said.

The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum remains open for now, but hands-on exhibits have closed.

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, health experts urge people to:
  • Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
  • Avoid directly touching frequently contacted surfaces, such as elevator buttons or door handles, in public spaces. (Use a tissue to cover your hand or finger if you have to touch something.)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home if you’re sick, and keep your children home if they are sick.
  • Clean surfaces in your home, and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.
Helpful resources:

For the latest COVID-19 information from CDPHE, visit

For updated case totals, visit CDPHE's Fast Facts page.

If you have general questions about COVID-19, call the CO-HELP call line at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911, for answers in many languages, or email for answers in English.
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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

REACH Pikes Peak plans move to Helen Hunt Elementary campus

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2020 at 8:30 AM

REACH Pikes Peak will move into the first floor of the west building of the former Helen Hunt Elementary School campus. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • REACH Pikes Peak will move into the first floor of the west building of the former Helen Hunt Elementary School campus.

REACH Pikes Peak, a local nonprofit serving low-income individuals and families throughout El Paso County, announced a big move Feb. 26.

The nonprofit — which served more than 9,000 families and individuals in 2018 — will transfer its downtown Colorado Springs office to the former Helen Hunt Elementary School, now a nonprofit campus in the Hillside neighborhood, Executive Director and CEO Patrice Ravenscroft says.

The announcement came at a press conference Feb. 26 at The Broadmoor, where REACH Pikes Peak also hoped to drum up support for its existing services. Ravenscroft highlighted a key aspect of the nonprofit's work: the Emergency Solutions Grant funding it uses for family stabilization services.

The program offers one-time assistance with emergency needs such as rent or mortgage (rural El Paso County only), utilities, food, medical prescriptions, housing rehabilitation, transportation and budget counseling, according to REACH Pikes Peak's website.

"Residents in danger of becoming homeless ... can call REACH Pikes Peak at  719-358-8396 to speak to an emergency service counselor to see if you qualify," Ravenscroft said.

Other nonprofits have found space in the east building of the Helen Hunt campus. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Other nonprofits have found space in the east building of the Helen Hunt campus.

The nonprofit aims to connect people who receive emergency funding to its long-term programs for financial stability, which include assistance with postsecondary education and savings accounts.

The El Pomar Foundation recently gave REACH Pikes Peak $10,000 for homelessness prevention services, Ravenscroft said, and the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners designated $20,000 through its Community Investment Program. REACH Pikes Peak administered $10,000 of that funding on its own and gave another $10,000 to Tri-Lakes Cares, a nonprofit serving low-income residents in northern El Paso County, Ravenscroft said.

REACH Pikes Peak plans to open in the Helen Hunt campus in June, she said. Eventually, Ravenscroft wants REACH Pikes Peak to serve 20,000 people from that location, which will include a Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado pantry location as well as a clothing pantry.

"Twenty thousand is an audacious goal, but we know that if we don't meet those families, we're going to have them on the streets — we're going to have them with no lights on, and no meals," Ravenscroft said.

More than 75,000 El Paso County residents are below the federal poverty level, she noted, amounting to just over 11 percent of the county's total population (according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates).

The poverty level set in 2020 by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services was $26,200 for a four-person household.

Ravenscroft became emotional when she mentioned her grandfather, Sam Dunlap, a Hillside community advocate who passed away last year.

"I'm so proud to continue [Dunlap's] legacy, because the need is still there," Ravenscroft said. "We're feeding hungry people, we're clothing people, we're still delivering basic needs to our citizens, and we're so proud to continue the legacy. But we're not done."
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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Forget a free lunch. Check out a museum at no charge.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2020 at 11:40 AM

Pikes Peak Library District is joining with seven area organizations to allow free access for PPLD cardholders via the Pikes Peak Culture Pass.

According to a news release, anyone 12 and up with a valid library card can access seven different museums and attractions in El Paso County.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with so many exciting organizations in our community to make culture and recreation more accessible in the Pikes Peak region,” Elyse Jones, Community Partnership Coordinator for PPLD, said in the release. “This takes the opportunities presented by a library card well beyond our collection and right out into our community.”

Your library card will get you into the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Space Foundation Discovery Center, The Money Museum, Rock Ledge Ranch Historical Site, and the Western Museum of Mining and Industry.

From the release:
These free admission passes are available for check out, similar to how you check out an eBook or other electronic resource. Starting Monday, March 2, patrons can log in to the online reservation page and book a pass up to 30 days in advance. Patrons can then print their confirmation, which will serve as their ticket, directly from home or at any Library location. “This is right in line with our mission, and something we’re so excited to bring to the region,” Jones said. “The Pikes Peak Culture Pass increases opportunities for education and cultural learning, creating a valuable connection between our in-house collection and hands-on experiences.” Each location admits a different number of people with the Pikes Peak Culture Pass. Details are listed on each pass at the time of reservation. Learn more and get started at
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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Olympic Museum pricetag soars as grand opening approaches

Posted By on Wed, Jan 22, 2020 at 8:50 AM

  • Artist rendering courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame located in lower downtown should be announcing an opening date soon, having predicted it would open its doors in early or spring 2020.

Peter Maiurro, chief communications and business affairs officer for the museum, tells the Indy the grand opening is tentatively set for May 28 to 30, with a splashy community event slated for May 31.

In the run-up to that occasion, the museum is heralding its mention in Architectural Digest as one of the most anticipated buildings planning to open this year. The others are Central Park Tower in New York City, the Vista Tower in Chicago and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Also, before it's even open, The New York Times named it as one of the 52 places to go this year.

But here's a question. Why has the cost of the museum project escalated by 50 percent since its conception, from $60 million in 2013 to $90 million today.

That's easy to explain, Maiurro says.

"When the project was conceived, that $60 million budget, the board thought would be adequate for the guest experience," he says. "The board has been very intentional in increasing the budget to be sure the technology is cutting edge, the guest experience is second to none, that all elements — architecture, hardware and software — are all top notch."

Maiurro notes the $90 million figure does not include an endowment or an operating reserve, and that fundraising is nearly complete for the project's actual cost. "We're awfully close and will continue to do fundraising for sustainability and to enhance exhibits and technology in the future," he says.

The museum will get $26.1 million from a bond issue to be repaid with state sales tax money allotted in 2013 by the state Economic Development Commission. That's part of a total of $120.5 million allowed for the museum, a downtown stadium, a sports medicine center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a new visitor center at the Air Force Academy.
But the museum is mostly relying on donations. Among those: $10 million from the El Pomar Foundation and $1 million from the Margot Lane Foundation.

It's also worth noting that the museum's board has expanded from 10 people in 2015 to 15 today and includes several well-known local folks: Downtown Partnership President CEO Susan Edmondson; B.J. Hybl, president and chief operating officer of Griffis/Blessing Inc.; president of Nor'wood Development Group Chris Jenkins; local businessman Phil Lane, and R. Thayer Tutt, Jr., vice chairman and chief investment officer of El Pomar Foundation.
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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Independence Center announces dental offices to receive accessible equipment

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 12:36 PM

The Independence Center gifted accessible equipment to dental offices. - COURTESY OF VERSATILT
  • Courtesy of Versatilt
  • The Independence Center gifted accessible equipment to dental offices.

The Independence Center announced the names of dental offices it's gifting with accessible equipment to make dentist appointments easier for people with disabilities.

The local nonprofit spent $75,000 from its IC Fund this year on wheelchair lifts, medical masks that allow deaf individuals to read lips, and other tools to improve accessibility at the following offices:
In addition to the free equipment, those businesses will also receive an Americans with Disabilities Act audit and disability competency training for their staff.

This spring, The Independence Center surveyed people with anxiety, autism, blindness and low vision, deafness, mobility issues, chemical sensitivities and post-traumatic stress disorder about their visits to the dentist.

Over half of the 46 participants said they hadn't received dental care in more than a year, even though all ranked their oral health as "highly important."

Some respondents said they did not have access to effective communication at the dentist, "either because they did not have an American Sign Language interpreter or because while their providers were wearing facial masks, they could not read their lips."

Winning dental practices will get specially designed masks with a clear window so that deaf patients can read staff's lips.

They'll also get Versatilt wheelchair lift devices, which according to the survey report "allow patients to recline safely and comfortably in their manual wheelchairs during dental exams without the risk of hurting their spines."

Last year, the Independence Center used money from the IC Fund to pay for accessible exam tables, lifts and hearing loop devices at medical practices. An online, interactive map gives locations and information for those offices with accessible equipment.
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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Corrected: ACLU sues GEO Group in immigrant's death at Aurora detention facility

Posted By on Wed, Nov 20, 2019 at 11:49 AM

The Aurora Contract Detention Facility faces an ACLU lawsuit. - JOSEPHROUSE / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • JosephRouse /
  • The Aurora Contract Detention Facility faces an ACLU lawsuit.

The family of an immigrant who died at an Aurora detention center seeks damages in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Nov. 12 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

Kamyar Samimi died at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, a for-profit detention center operated by GEO Group Inc., in December 2017. According to the lawsuit, Samimi had been taking methadone — a form of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder — every day for 25 years before being arrested by ICE agents at his home in Thornton.

"Dr. [Jeffrey Elam] Peterson, the only full-time physician at the facility, cut Mr. Samimi off his methadone cold turkey," the ACLU's complaint says. "That action was medically unjustifiable. Then, Dr. Peterson failed to treat and respond properly to Mr. Samimi’s severe withdrawal symptoms."

The family — three children between the ages of 22 and 38 — seeks damages from both Peterson and the GEO Group, alleging "negligence, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and violations of the Rehabilitation Act."

In a statement provided to the Independent, a GEO spokesperson said the company "strongly rejects" the allegations in the lawsuit.

“The Processing Centers we manage on behalf of ICE are top-rated by independent accreditation entities, including the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and provide high-quality residential care," the spokesperson said. "We are committed to providing a safe and secure environment for everyone in our care.”

Samimi was born in Iran in 1953 and entered the U.S. as a student in 1976, the lawsuit says. In 1979, he became a legal permanent resident.

Samimi's arrest on Nov. 17, 2017 was based on his conviction "for possession of a small amount of a controlled substance twelve years earlier. The immigration charge asserted
that Mr. Samimi’s twelve-year-old conviction rendered him removeable from the country," the lawsuit says.

The complaint paints a harrowing picture of Samimi's final days, in which medical professionals denied Samimi methadone and allegedly ignored his serious withdrawal symptoms and abdominal pain, until paramedics were finally called as Samimi lay on the floor vomiting blood.

"The sudden cessation of methadone violates the applicable professional medical standard of care, and causes excruciating withdrawal symptoms that include severe dysphoria, cravings for opiates, irritability, sweating, nausea, tremors, vomiting, insomnia, and muscle pain," the complaint notes. "It also leads to seizures in some cases. These symptoms can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications. Psychological symptoms of withdrawal may include decompensation, severe depression, and suicidality."

The Office of the Coroner for Adams and Broomfield Counties concluded in a January 2018 report, according to the ACLU's complaint, that Mr. Samimi died "of undetermined causes," but that emphysema and gastrointestinal bleeding "likely contributed" to his death.

"Methadone withdrawal cannot be ruled out as the cause of death,” the coroner's office noted.

In a detainee death review obtained by Rocky Mountain PBS in October, ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility, External Reviews and Analysis Unit found the detention facility "did not fully comply" with ICE standards for medical care, safety and security.

The review lists 12 deficiencies, which it states "should not be construed as contributory to the detainee's death."

They include:

• The facility's director of nursing and midlevel provider positions were vacant for longer than six months.

• Nurses administered less than half of the doses prescribed on an as-needed basis for Samimi's withdrawal symptoms.

• Samimi's possible withdrawal did not lead staff to conduct an initial provider assessment within two days of intake.

• Despite Samimi's life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, staff didn't transfer him to an emergency department in the week following intake.

• Staff did not complete an initial physical assessment during Samimi's 15 days at the facility.

• Staff did not complete a Medical/Psychiatric alert for Samimi.

• Samimi was not scheduled for a dental exam.

• The day Samimi died, the facility's physician did not answer or return two phone calls from medical staff.

• Nurses "failed to document administration of Samimi's medications on numerous occasions."

• Staff did not tell ICE's field office director about Samimi's withdrawal symptoms and deteriorating conditions.

• Staff did not obtain Samimi's informed consent before administering the anti-depressant and sedative drug Trazodone.

• During the 14 hours between Samimi's placement on suicide watch and his psychiatric evaluation, staff did not conduct a welfare check.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated in the headline that the ACLU was suing ICE. The ACLU is in fact suing the GEO Group, and ICE was not named in the lawsuit.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Where to get flu shots in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Wed, Oct 16, 2019 at 3:57 PM

  • Shutterstock
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you get a flu shot before the end of October, but getting vaccinated remains worthwhile late into the year.

"The question is typically, 'Will it last? If I get it early, will it last through the season?' And the answer to that is yes," says Cynthia Wacker, manager of Mission Ministry & Outreach for Penrose-St. Francis Health Services. "It really does last — keeps that immunity for up to a year — but you do need to get a flu shot every year. It's critical."

Flu shots are especially important for members of high-risk groups, including children younger than 5, adults older than 65, pregnant women, nursing home residents and those with certain medical conditions. People from these groups are prone to complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections, according to the CDC.

But Wacker says the flu can affect everyone differently. For example, a 20-something with a poor diet might experience worse symptoms than a healthy, active senior.

Regardless of your own risk factors, don't just get a flu shot for yourself, Wacker says.

"It's important for your family," she points out. "If you're a grandparent, it's important that you are not going to get the flu so that your children don't get it, your grandchildren don't get it, the people in your church. All the people that you're around."

El Paso County Public Health recorded 458 influenza-related hospitalizations last winter. If that doesn't scare you, at least take pity on your neighbors, relatives and coworkers, and go get a dang shot.

Here's how...

Visit the HealthMap Vaccine Finder for a list of clinic locations. Your insurance should cover a flu shot without charging a copay, but may restrict the locations or health care providers — so check with your insurance provider if you're worried about that.

Most pharmacies charge around $20 to $45 per flu shot for people paying out of pocket.

Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurses will also provide free flu shots for uninsured and underinsured adults, and children over 4 years old, at one-day clinics in various locations around the city.

The nurses have a limited number of free vaccines available, Wacker says, so they ask that if you do have insurance and can get a free shot elsewhere, to please do so.

Their remaining schedule for 2019 includes the following dates:

Wednesday, Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. to noon at Family Connections, 917 E. Moreno Ave.
Thursday, Oct. 17 from noon to 2 p.m. at Tri-Lakes Cares, 235 Jefferson St., Monument
Saturday, Oct. 19 from 5 to 7 p.m., and
Sunday, Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 2715 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
Wednesday, Oct. 23 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Ecumenical Social Ministries, 201 N. Weber St.
Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Westside Cares, 2808 Colorado Ave.
Wednesday, Oct. 30 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Grace Be Unto You Outreach Church, 3195 Airport Road
Tuesday, Nov. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Marian House, 14 W. Bijou St.
Wednesday, Nov. 27 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Springs Rescue Mission, Thanksgiving, City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St.
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Friday, October 11, 2019

Springs Rescue Mission shelters record number of homeless

Posted By on Fri, Oct 11, 2019 at 11:56 AM

Springs Rescue Mission sheltered a record number of guests Oct. 10. - THOMAS VOSS
  • Thomas Voss
  • Springs Rescue Mission sheltered a record number of guests Oct. 10.
On Oct. 10, Colorado Springs experienced an early cold snap with nearly an inch and a half of snow accumulation.

The National Weather Service in Pueblo recorded a low temperature of 14 degrees, beating the previous record of 17 degrees, set in 1946.

It was also a record-breaking day for Springs Rescue Mission, Colorado Springs' largest homeless shelter. The facility housed approximately 475 people experiencing homelessness Oct. 10 — shattering the shelter's previous record of 447, set in May, according to Chief Development Officer Travis Williams.

Daily shelter bed counts recorded by Colorado Springs homeless shelters show that Springs Rescue Mission had zero available beds, compared with more than 100 left unoccupied the previous night.

Williams attributes the increase to plunging temperatures that may have caught some people (who might have expected to sleep outside or in vehicles) by surprise. The previous day, Oct. 9, the Weather Service recorded 80-degree temperatures during the afternoon, which dropped to 32 degrees by 11:59 p.m.

While Springs Rescue Mission had to bring in mats to accommodate some of the shelter guests, Williams says that there's no reason the shelter couldn't find room for more people if needed.

He points out that if Greenway Flats, a permanent supportive housing facility, and Springs Rescue Mission's addiction recovery program are included in the totals, the nonprofit kept around 585 people out of the cold that night.

At the Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery, zero men's beds and one women's bed was left open Oct. 10 — meaning around 200 beds were occupied. The Salvation Army had 22 family beds available, according to the shelter bed count.

The Place (formerly Urban Peak), a 20-bed shelter for youths ages 15 through 20, had three available beds. Family Promise, a family shelter, had zero beds open.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

City Council approves tiny home village for at-risk young people

Posted By on Tue, Sep 17, 2019 at 11:11 AM

A tiny home development will go forward in the Mill Street neighborhood. - COURTESY OF WE FORTIFY
  • Courtesy of We Fortify
  • A tiny home development will go forward in the Mill Street neighborhood.

A tiny home village for at-risk young people in the Mill Street neighborhood will be Colorado Springs' first such development, thanks to City Council's unanimous approval of the project Sept. 10.

(Other than tuberculosis huts in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the city's never had a tiny home development, according to the project consultant.)

The development, dubbed Working Fusion at Mill Street, replaces five 19th-century homes on Fountain Boulevard between Sierra Madre and Sahwatch streets with 18 tiny homes, each about 240 square feet.

They'll will be rented, for $600 a month, to young people between the ages of 18 and 29 working toward independence — those who have a steady job and don’t use drugs, but may need an extra hand after leaving the foster care system, exiting military service, or encountering life difficulties that could put them at risk of becoming homeless.

While Councilor David Geislinger ultimately supported the project, he initially voiced concern that the price tag could be steep for a low-income renter.

Going by the formula that 30 percent of one's income should go to rent, he pointed out, "that's a yearly take-home of $24,000, or about $12 an hour. ...I guess the question I have is, what is the population that you're trying to bring into this? And is it a population that realistically we can expect to have take-home pay of $24,000 a year?"

(Of note: A former resident of one of the 19th-century homes on the future project site told the Indy in August she was paying $500 a month for rent, less than the at-risk young people will pay. Colorado has a minimum wage of $11.10, which will bump up to $12 in 2020.)

Project founder Shelley Jensen said she expects residents to be financially challenged, and that an emergency fund will help provide a cushion if they can't make a rent payment. Wraparound services tailored to each person, which could include budgeting classes, career counseling and anger management, will be offered to the residents through the nonprofit running the village, We Fortify.

Joanne Zeigler spoke on behalf of the Mill Street Neighborhood Association, which opposes the project. She argued that the neighborhood was already overwhelmed by clients using Springs Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery.

"Ever since we've started public hearings, we've described that these people who are going to be the residents are not going to be homeless," Jensen argued. "And I get it, that it's hard to believe that, because there is so much transient activity down there." She told Council that she had expressed a willingness to work with the neighborhood on a "good neighbor contract," but hadn't received a response.

Ultimately, City Council voted 8-0 in favor of the project, with Councilor Wayne Williams absent.

"I really appreciate this project and all the work you've put into it," Council President Richard Skorman told Jensen before the vote, calling it "a good example of what we can do in the future."

The property is owned by the Flaks Family Trust, which planned to demolish the old houses whether or not the project secured approval. Developer Kairos Project 17 has a 10-year lease.
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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Conservative nonprofit presents Freedom Conference

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Then-Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt visits Hobbs, New Mexico in February. - TAMI A. HEILEMANN DOI
  • Tami A. Heilemann DOI
  • Then-Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt visits Hobbs, New Mexico in February.

A range of political thinkers — from oil lobbyist turned Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to democratic socialist magazine editor Bhaskar Sunkara — will gather in Steamboat Springs Aug. 22 to 24 at the Freedom Conference and Festival, presented by the conservative nonprofit Steamboat Institute.

Speakers include lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a Democrat who has defended President Donald Trump, including against impeachment for obstruction of justice; former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint; Hadley Heath Manning with the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, and actor Kevin Sorbo, who endorsed Trump for president, telling Fox News that “Jesus would have voted for Trump.”

The conference also will feature figures involved in the movie The Creepy Line, about the societal influence of Google and Facebook, and Ted Trimpa, with the Trimpa Group, a consultant who works to advance progressive political and societal issues.

El Pomar Foundation of Colorado Springs is a sponsor.
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Independence Center tackles accessibility at the dentist

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 2:30 PM

The Independence Center plans to gift accessible equipment to dental offices. - COURTESY OF VERSATILT
  • Courtesy of Versatilt
  • The Independence Center plans to gift accessible equipment to dental offices.
About a year ago, The Independence Center, a nonprofit serving people with disabilities in Colorado Springs, announced it was accepting nominations for primary care providers who should have accessible exam tables and lifts gifted to them.

The nonprofit received 23 nominations last year from Medicaid and Medicare recipients across the region. It gifted tables and lifts to nine practices, and portable hearing systems to three.

Now, The Independence Center hopes to continue its efforts by investing another $75,000 from its IC Fund into health care.

"We're planning to work with dental health care providers to expand accessible dental services here in the Pikes Peak region," CEO Patricia Yeager announced at the nonprofit's annual ADA Celebration Luncheon, celebrating the 29th anniversary of the Americans Disabilities Act.

Medical masks can be designed to help deaf and hard-of-hearing patients read lips. - COURTESY OF THE INDEPENDENCE CENTER
  • Courtesy of the Independence Center
  • Medical masks can be designed to help deaf and hard-of-hearing patients read lips.
The Independence Center did its research to figure out how to improve accessibility at dental offices.

The nonprofit conducted a study this spring to solicit dental care feedback from local participants with disabilities. Feedback included concerns that affect care, including anxiety, autism, blindness and low vision, deafness, mobility issues, chemical sensitivities and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Of the 39 respondents, 24 percent said they did not have access to effective communication at the dentist, "either because they did not have an American Sign Language interpreter or because while their providers were wearing facial masks, they could not read their lips."

One participant quoted in the research report noted that without an ASL interpreter, "It's like you are an alien lying on a table, and they are dissecting you."

Nineteen percent of the respondents said the dental procedure room was not accessible, and 5 percent said it was too small.

"I go [to the dentist], but it's a huge effort," said one participant, who was quoted in the report. "I go without my oxygen tank while I'm in the chair because there's nowhere to put the tank. When my oxygen numbers are low, I get more anxious. I hate it."

Medicaid or Medicare recipients with disabilities are invited to nominate their dental provider to receive accessible medical equipment through a form online.

Dental offices selected for a gift "can receive a wheelchair lift, medical masks that allow patients to read lips, and other tools that can make the experience of going to the dentist more enjoyable for people with disabilities," according to The Independence Center's website. The selected offices will also receive an Americans with Disabilities Act  audit evaluating the accessibility of their facility and a disability competency training session.
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Friday, July 19, 2019

Greccio's senior housing project to likely get federal financing through city

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 5:54 PM

  • 4 PM production via
Nonprofit Greccio Housing will likely develop the first project ever to use a special type of bond financing granted to Colorado Springs by the Internal Revenue Service.

The project: A 54-unit affordable housing project for seniors age 62 and up, dubbed Atrium at Austin Bluffs. It's located at Austin Bluffs Parkway and Templeton Gap Road.

The financing: Private activity bonds, which can be used by projects that successfully apply for extremely competitive Low Income Housing Tax Credits through the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. (These federal tax credits provide capital for affordable housing developments, and in return, investors who purchase them receive a dollar-for-dollar break on their taxes.)

In the past, Colorado Springs has given away its allocation of private activity bonds for projects in El Paso County.

But City Council decided to keep its private activity bond allocation for 2018 and 2019. The city now has about $49 million total financing available to help fund affordable housing projects, says Housing and Urban Development Program Manager Steve Posey. Atrium at Austin Bluffs would use about $8 million, should Council approve the bond allocation at its July 23 meeting. (The city could not incur any debt by allocating the bonds.)

Colorado Springs also donated the parcel of land where the project will sit, Posey says.

"The thing that's really exciting about this project, is that we've got a local nonprofit housing provider, that’s Greccio Housing, we’ve got the city donating a piece of land to make this project happen, and then we've got the city playing a key role in the financing for this project, and that’s a first," he points out.

The project includes:
  • six units for people making less than 30 percent of area median income ($19,550 for a two-person household);
  • six units for people making 40 percent of AMI ($26,070 for a two-person household) or less;
  • 21 units for people making 50 percent of AMI ($32,600 for a two-person household) or less;
  • and 21 units for people making 60 percent of AMI ($39,100 for a two-person household) or less.
While plans aren't yet finalized, the development will likely also include a health center, community room, fitness center, grab-and-go library and business center, says Lee Patke, Greccio Housing's executive director.

Atrium at Austin Bluffs doesn't just represent a new kind of way to tackle affordable housing for the city, but is also something new for Greccio, Patke says.

"Our primary method of bringing new units on board in the past has been acquisition and renovation of existing properties," he says. "The upside to that is, when there is an available supply of apartments, that tends to be less expensive — because the property already exists, and so all we do is renovate."

But four or five years ago, he adds, a changing real estate market made acquiring such properties much harder, and Greccio had to begin looking at new ways of adding affordable housing.

"Not only is real estate much more expensive now than it was five years ago, but it’s much more competitive, which has also driven up prices," Patke says. "So the older model doesn't work as well, because not only are prices higher and there's a need for a greater level of financing, but there just aren't as many available apartment complexes available for sale right now."

This is the first time Greccio has been the primary developer on a project that uses tax-credit financing, and Patke hopes it won't be the last.

In the meantime, Posey says there's several projects "in the pipeline" that could likely use the remaining $41 million of the city's private activity bond allocation. It's too early to announce details, he says: "They’re projects where the development team is still working out how many units can they put on the site, can they make the numbers work for the project, do they think that they can get all the approvals that they need for the project, and what income levels are they trying to help with those rentals."

In June, five developers applied for tax credits to build affordable housing in Colorado Springs. The winners of those awards, who would be eligible for private activity bonds, have yet to be announced.
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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Urban Peak youth shelter breakfast draws 1,000

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 4:27 PM

A crowd of 1,000 people came to support Urban Peak at its fundraiser breakfast under the Colorado Avenue bridge. - PHOTOS BY J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • Photos by J. Adrian Stanley
  • A crowd of 1,000 people came to support Urban Peak at its fundraiser breakfast under the Colorado Avenue bridge.

Sana Noor pauses as she tells a crowd of over 1,000 people about the emotional, physical and sexual abuse she endured as a child, including being raped by a neighbor when she was only 10.

"All this was under the roof that I was supposed to call home," she says.

Collecting herself, she explains that as she grew into a teenager, her relationship with her parents worsened. They were strict followers of Islam; she was an atheist. She craved her freedom and they wanted to tightly control their daughter. She was expected to cover her hair and her access to technology was extremely limited.
When her parents gave her an ultimatum — follow their rules and religion or leave — she chose the latter. She remembers searching her phone desperately before finding Urban Peak in Denver as she awaited a ride away from the family home.

Her parents didn't take long to find here there and demand to staff that she come home with them. But Noor says that she was scared they'd hurt or kill her. The situation escalated. Police were involved.

Urban Peak eventually brought Noor to Colorado Springs to keep her safe. She was covered in a blanket in the backseat of a car on the drive here, in case her parents were watching. Forty minutes into the drive, when staff was sure they weren't being followed, she remembers being allowed to uncover herself. She saw Garden of the Gods, and felt the wind in her hair.

"I never felt as free as I did at that moment," she tells the crowd.

"We are here for youth that are in the toughest moments of their lives," Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen tells the crowd.
  • "We are here for youth that are in the toughest moments of their lives," Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen tells the crowd.

Urban Peak Colorado Springs, the area's LGBTQ-inclusive youth shelter, provides outreach, shelter and longer-term housing for homeless youths. It operates on a $1.8 million budget. As a part of its mission, the nonprofit offers access to case management, health/medical care, family/life skills, education, employment, and the Safe Place program.

The annual OFF THE STREET breakfast is Urban Peak's largest fundraiser. It's long been held under the Colorado Avenue bridge, where passing trains occasionally interrupt speakers. The idea is to bring the audience into an environment where a homeless youth might be forced to sleep. This year's breakfast raised $169,467.

As the audience tucked into breakfast burritos from Picnic Basket Catering, Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen explained that Urban Peak's programs have been growing.

In the past year:

• Since last July, Urban Peak had housed (not just sheltered) 58 youths, and of those 54 remained safely housed. Kemppainen explains that it costs an average of $35,000 a year to leave someone homeless (think clothing and shelter, but also ambulances, police and health care) compared to just $14,640 to keep a youth housed for that year.

•Urban Peak helped 15 youths earn a GED or high school diploma, which will increase each of their wages by an average of $9,500 a year.

• Urban Peak has built/is building partnerships with Urban Peak in Denver, Peak Vista Community Health Centers and Partners in Housing to provide more holistic care to youths and to reach longterm goals to end youth homelessness.

• Most important, Urban Peak provided social, emotional and physical safety for youths, who might otherwise seek connection with those who wish them harm. "Human beings are neurologically hardwired to find belonging," Kemppainen notes.
Sana Noor tells being abused as a child, stifled as a teen and forced to leave home early. It was Urban Peak, she tells the crowd, that gave her a chance to join the Air Force and give back to her community.
  • Sana Noor tells being abused as a child, stifled as a teen and forced to leave home early. It was Urban Peak, she tells the crowd, that gave her a chance to join the Air Force and give back to her community.
When Noor arrived in Colorado Springs, the staff helped her to start a life. That meant writing a resumé, getting signed up for Medicaid, getting immunizations, setting up a bank account, getting an ID, getting a bus pass to look for jobs, and working with a case manager.

At the time, Victoria Scanlon was brand new to case management.

"I recall telling Vic, 'I'm going to be your first success story,'" Noor says.
601 youths were helped through the outreach program in 2018. 185 were sheltered. 45 were in housing programs. click to tweet
Noor got her first job at Jimmy John's. Then she got a second job. She began meeting with an Air Force recruiter. Fluent in four languages, she thought she'd like to be an airborne linguist.

That didn't quite come together, but she did get into the Air Force, go through basic training, and now works in finance. She's finishing her associate's degree, before working on her bachelor's, and studying for a pilot's license. Now stationed in Florida, she makes sure to give back in her free time, recalling how much was given to her.

Noor says it's been wonderful to watch her life come together, though she gets a little sad when she watches her peer's parents celebrating their milestones. She hasn't been in contact with her own family since 2016. Still, she says, she has her friends from Urban Peak. "Family isn't the people whose blood you carry; it's the people who you love and care about and the people who love and care about you."

Noor says she traveled back to Colorado for a chance to give back to an organization that was there for her at her lowest moment.

"It's a scary thought wondering how different my life could have been," she says. 
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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Independence Center trains deaf and hard of hearing students to be CNAs

Posted By on Thu, Jun 13, 2019 at 1:29 PM

The Independence Center's CNA training program is now housed next door to its main location. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • The Independence Center's CNA training program is now housed next door to its main location.

Back in January, the Independence Center, a nonprofit serving people with disabilities, received a request from a Denver resident who is deaf.

She'd signed up for a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) class in Denver that wasn't able to provide her with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

"She was very determined and very motivated to become a CNA," recalls Rebecca Hull, CNA training program administrator at the Independence Center. "However, when she actually got into the classwork, she realized that she really needed an equal access to language — and it was just not possible to complete the class for her without an ASL interpreter. So she came to us, and asked us if we would be willing to set up such a class."

This summer, the Independence Center is doing just that, by providing an ASL interpreter at CNA classes that run June 3 to June 27. The training program includes seven deaf students and five hearing students, Hull says. Most of the students are from Colorado, though the Independence Center has received calls from out of state expressing interest.

One student who hails from Maryland hopes to take the skills he learns back to his home country of Sri Lanka, where he'll teach other deaf individuals how to become caretakers.

While it's been difficult for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to break into the medical field, Hull says, their disability can actually prove to be an advantage in certain situations.

"The deaf and hard of hearing population is so reliant on their power of observation, because that is how we get all of our information — by paying attention to the little details that a hearing person might overlook because all of their senses are being overwhelmed," Hull says.

"And being so in tune to details, I feel like it gives the deaf community a gain and advantage to realize 'Oh hey, you seem to be favoring your left side today, and last week you were favoring your right side. Is there something going on?' Just being able to tune into tiny details really can make all the difference in your resident's care plan."

The Independence Center offers CNA training programs once a month, with day and evening hours available. Students who graduate from the program work in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice, rehab programs and home health care, or may choose to go on to nursing school.

The nonprofit has trained more than 800 students since it purchased the program in December 2015, after encountering difficulty filling CNA positions in its own home health program.

"We were having so much trouble finding CNAs, attracting that workforce, that we decided: We're going to train them," Independence Center CEO Patricia Yeager told the Indy in October, after the CNA program's new building opened.

The job growth for CNAs is faster than average, with an 11 percent increase in job openings expected between 2016 and 2026, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. That growth is driven in part by the fast-increasing population of people older than 65 (in Colorado, that age group is expected to double to 1.7 million by 2050).

The average annual wage for CNAs working in Colorado was $32,600, or $15.70 an hour, in May of last year.

Hull says that if the Denver and Colorado Springs communities express interest, they'll continue to offer training with an ASL interpreter.

"I'm just a big believer in 'Deaf Can,' and I think that a lot of the students in our class are going to go on to make great CNAs," Hull says. "I'm just really excited for them and excited to be a part of all of this."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect appropriate language when discussing deaf individuals.
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