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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

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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 SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • 4 PM production via Shutterstock.com
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.
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"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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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mental Health Colorado "scores" state lawmakers

Posted By on Wed, May 29, 2019 at 5:03 PM

TERO VESALAINEN / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Tero Vesalainen / Shutterstock.com
Each legislative session, political groups and advocacy organizations release "legislative scorecards," which assign lawmakers a "score" or "grade" based on the way they voted on issues.

Mental Health Colorado, a nonpartisan 501(c)3 organization that advocates for mental health, led the pack this year in releasing its scorecard May 21. El Paso County representatives and senators got scores that ranged from 38 (Republican Rep. Dave Williams) to 100 (Democratic Reps. Tony Exum and Marc Snyder, and Sen. Pete Lee).

Obviously, the legislators scored worst by certain organizations will probably end up scoring highest with others. For example, Williams got an A+, 93 percent rating last year from libertarian group Principles of Liberty. Lee earned an F from that group as a state representative.

Using data from Colorado Capitol Watch, Mental Health Colorado assigned scores based on state lawmakers' votes on eight bills that were part of its legislative agenda. They were:

House Bill 1009: "Substance Use Disorders Recovery" expands the state’s housing voucher program to include people with substance use disorders. It also requires that recovery facilities have a state license, and creates an “opioid crisis recovery fund” for settlement money the state receives from suing pill manufacturers.

The bill appropriates $1.1 million next year to multiple state agencies.

House Bill 1044: "Advance Behavioral Health Orders Treatment," according to Mental Health Colorado, "allows Coloradans to create a psychiatric advance directive to specify their preferred methods of treatment in the event of a mental health crisis that prevents them from making decisions for themselves."

House Bill 1193: “Behavioral Health Supports For High-risk Families” provides access to intensive substance use treatment to women up to one year after giving birth, and creates pilot child care programs for women in treatment.

This bill appropriates $500,000 next year to the Department of Human Services.

House Bill 1269: The “Behavioral Health Care Coverage Modernization Act” is intended to strengthen enforcement of parity laws for both commercial insurers and the state’s Medicaid system, with the goal of making sure Coloradans can get mental health and substance-use help just as easily as physical treatment.

The bill appropriates around $420,000 next year to multiple state agencies.

House Bill 1287: "Treatment for Opioids and Substance Use Disorders" directs the Department of Human Services to implement an online behavioral health capacity tracking system to show available spots at mental health facilities and substance use treatment programs across the state. It also creates a grant program to fund substance use treatment programs in underserved areas of the state.

This bill appropriates $5.7 million next year to multiple state agencies. Most of that money comes from the Marijuana Cash Tax Fund.

Senate Bill 10: "Professional Behavioral Health Services for Schools," according to Mental Health Colorado, "updates and improves the School Health Professionals Grant Program and includes an additional $3 million in time-limited funding to schools to increase the presence of school health professionals to support the behavioral health needs of students."

The bill appropriates $3 million next year from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund to the Department of Education.

Senate Bill 222: "Individuals At Risk Of Institutionalization" creates incentives for providers who treat individuals with severe mental health or substance use disorders, and creates a "safety net system" to expand high-intensity behavioral health treatment programs.

This bill appropriates $370,000 next year to multiple state agencies.

Senate Bill 223: "Actions Related to Competency to Proceed" requires the Department of Human Services to develop an electronic tracking system for defendants whose mental state may not allow them to stand trial. It also requires DHS to convene a group of experts to create placement guidelines for referring defendants to restoration services, and work with a higher education institution to develop and provide training for mental competency evaluations.

This bill appropriates $6.5 million from the state's general fund this year, and $9.1 million next year to multiple departments.

Here's how our local legislators scored. (Committee votes were included as well as votes of the full House and Senate, which is why some lawmakers who voted for the same bills have different scores.)

• Rep. Terri Carver (R): 90

Carver voted for all of the bills except HB1009.

• Rep. Tony Exum (D): 100

Exum was absent for HB1009 but voted for all of other the bills.

• Rep. Tim Geitner (R): 67

Geitner voted "no" on HB1009, HB1269 and SB10.

• Rep. Lois Landgraf (R): 82

Landgraf voted "no" on HB1009 and SB10.

• Rep. Larry Liston (R): 66

Liston voted "no" on HB1269 and SB10. He was absent for HB1009.

• Rep. Shane Sandridge (R): 63

Sandridge voted "no" on HB1009, HB1269 and SB10.

• Rep. Marc Snyder (D): 100

Snyder voted for all of the bills.

• Rep. Dave Williams (R): 38

Williams voted "no" on HB1009, HB1269, HB1287, SB10 and SB223.

• Sen. Bob Gardner (R): 82

Gardner voted "no" on HB1009 and SB10.

• Sen. Owen Hill (R): 44

Hill voted "no" on HB1009, HB1269 and SB10.

• Sen. Dennis Hisey (R): 80

Hisey voted "no" on HB1009.

• Sen. Pete Lee (D): 100

Lee voted for all of the bills.

• Rep. Paul Lundeen (R): 88

Lundeen voted "no" on HB1009.
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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Point-in-Time count shows homeless population leveling out in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2019 at 3:47 PM

Police officers talk to residents in the Quarry homeless camp southeast of downtown. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Police officers talk to residents in the Quarry homeless camp southeast of downtown.

According to numbers recently released from January's Point-in-Time homeless count, the total number of people experiencing homelessness in Colorado Springs appears to have stabilized after three years of consecutive large increases.

Volunteers conducting the count recorded a total of 1,562 people staying outside, in emergency shelters and living in transitional housing — 11 more than last year, representing an increase of less than 1 percent.

Since 2015, when volunteers counted 1,073 people, the city's homeless population has increased by 45.6 percent.

The federally-mandated estimate, considered an undercount, is conducted every year on a single night in January. This year, 180 volunteers canvassed the city conducting surveys and distributing socks, hats, gloves and hand-warmers.

This year's numbers showed a 13 percent decrease in the number of unsheltered people (those staying in tents, in cars or on the streets). Meanwhile, 7.7 percent more people were counted in emergency shelters and transitional housing. The numbers reflect positively on the city's push to add more low-barrier shelter beds this year, where clients don't have to meet sobriety requirements.

Springs Rescue Mission — already a low-barrier shelter — began adding beds in November, for a total of 150 new beds by the end of the season. Meanwhile, the Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery began removing sobriety requirements for its 220 beds, and plans to add 40 beds for homeless families by the time renovations are complete.

Volunteers counted 131 unaccompanied youths this year, and 137 families (households with at least one adult and one child). Those represent 41 percent and 7 percent increases from the previous year, respectively, though families and children who may be staying temporarily with friends or family aren't counted in the Point-in-Time.

Data collected separately by El Paso County school districts for the 2017-2018 school year showed 449 families and 1,117 students without permanent housing. That data also includes those staying with friends or family, staying in trailer parks and living in motels.

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Friday, May 3, 2019

May is Mental Health Month

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 1:28 PM

NAMI board member Tyra Sandoval speaks at the nonprofit's annual fundraising breakfast. - MIKE PACH
  • Mike Pach
  • NAMI board member Tyra Sandoval speaks at the nonprofit's annual fundraising breakfast.
As Mental Health Month begins, some advocates are celebrating what they regard as recent successes — such as the April 29 passage of House Bill 1269, which strengthens enforcement of parity laws that require insurers to prioritize mental health care to the same extent they do physical health.


And Senate Bill 222, which passed April 30, creates incentives for providers who treat individuals with severe mental health or substance use disorders, as well as strengthening a "safety net system" to expand high-intensity behavioral health treatment programs.

But daunting challenges remain, as highlighted by speakers at the May 2 fundraising breakfast for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Colorado Springs.

"I'm going to share some numbers with you this morning, and you need to buckle up: 445,000 Coloradans have a mental illness that is going untreated," said Tyra Sandoval, a NAMI board member and local realtor. "181,000 of those people report they sought treatment but were unable to get it. 51,000 alone live here in El Paso County. 152 people completed suicide in El Paso County in 2018, and seven of those were teens. 112 were men."

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, the vice president of NAMI's board, spoke about his own struggle coping with a family member's mental illness.

"I knew what it was like to feel as if your only two options are to watch the person you care for drown or to hold on knowing inevitably you would drown with them," Kelly said. "No one should feel that lost. Every family deserves a place to go for help, and with NAMI, they do."

Kelly highlighted recent local projects informed and supported by NAMI: teen suicide prevention efforts, the formation of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office crisis intervention team, and the launch of the Man Therapy campaign, which aims to destigmatize mental illness for men.

NAMI provides a variety of free mental health programs and services for the community, including support groups and classes for family members of people with mental health issues.

Your reminder this month: Don't forget you can call the free, confidential Colorado Crisis Services phone line at any time if you find yourself in crisis, or just need a friendly ear. Their number: 1-844-493-TALK (8255). You can also text TALK to 38255 to speak with a trained mental health professional, or chat online.

AspenPointe also operates walk-in crisis center locations at:

115 S. Parkside Dr.
Colorado Springs
(Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

...and...

6071 E. Woodmen Road, Suite 135
St. Francis Medical Center, North Care Building
(Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday - Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)

The state Department of Human Services, in partnership with Mental Health Colorado, recently launched the Mental Wellness and Addiction Recovery Guide website for people considering mental health or substance use treatment. You can check it out at https://cowellnessrecovery.org/.
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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

719Heroes raise money for K9 officers

Posted By on Wed, May 1, 2019 at 2:50 PM

COURTESY CSPD
  • Courtesy CSPD
A month or so ago, we noticed a group of people with cameras outside our office next to a police car. Naturally, we asked them what was going on.

Turns out they were filming a promo video for an event to raise money for K9 officers. The police officer and pup in the video both work for the Colorado Springs Police Department. You can watch the full video below (make sure you have tissues handy):


The second annual Homes for Heroes Community Cares K9 Event, organized by 719Heroes, is scheduled for May 4 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Weidner Field.

"We try and help fund 27 — this year it happens to be 27 of the local canine officers — and three of the equine officers with the sheriff's department, which are the horses," explains local realtor Preston Smith, an event organizer. "They do have a budget from the city... but unexpected things pop up, and most of the time the officers who are the handlers who take the K-9 officers home with them ... incur those expenses sometimes on their own."

Pups working with the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office, Fountain Police Department, Woodland Park Police Department and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will receive donations, Smith says.

The event is free to the public, and will feature vendors, food trucks, Broncos cheerleaders, dog demonstrations, and celebrity appearances from actor Judd Lormand of CBS show SEAL Team and motivational speaker Randy Sutton.

There's also a 5K race with a $25 registration fee (register here), a silent auction and the chance to win $10,000 in a soccer contest. For a donation, Smith adds, you can put on a "bite suit" as part of a dog demonstration.

Smith and his colleagues with the 719Heroes network, an affiliate of Homes for Heroes, give 25 percent of their commissions back to law enforcement officers who buy homes with them.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

NRA files suit against PR firm after 38-year relationship

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2019 at 11:15 AM

Ackerman McQueen's office is located in this building on South Cascade Avenue. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Ackerman McQueen's office is located in this building on South Cascade Avenue.
The National Rifle Association filed suit on April 12 against its long-standing marketing/public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen.

Based in Oklahoma City, Ackerman McQueen also has offices in Washington, D.C., Dallas and at 517 South Cascade Ave. in Colorado Springs. The firm's website describes the local office like this: "Situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains, this office is a creative center for all of our publishing efforts."

A lengthy analysis of the NRA's relationship with Ackerman McQueen was published in The New Yorker on April 17.

From the story:
The suit alleges that Ackerman has denied the N.R.A. access to basic business records, including the terms of Oliver North’s contract, and blames the firm for throwing it into an existential crisis. Ackerman’s general lack of transparency, the complaint says, “threatens to imminently and irreparably harm” the N.R.A.’s status as a nonprofit organization. (In response, the marketing firm issued a statement saying it “has served the NRA and its members with great pride and dedication for the last 38 years. The NRA’s action is frivolous, inaccurate and intended to cause harm to the reputation of our company and the future of that 38-year relationship.”)
The magazine reports delves into the long-standing association of the NRA and Ackerman, noting they're so close "that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins."

The NRA has poured lavish amounts of money into Ackerman. From 2014 to 2016, it paid the firm $52 million, according to IRS filings available on Guidestar. The New Yorker also reported it paid another $40 million to Ackerman in 2017.

A dash of local flavor from the article:
In 2014, [Ackerman CEO] Angus McQueen’s son, Revan, got married, in Colorado Springs, in an opulent affair that brought together the most prominent beneficiaries of Ackerman’s work with the N.R.A. Revan had graduated from New York University only five years earlier, but he was being trained to work as the co-C.E.O. of Ackerman McQueen. During the wedding weekend, Revan and his guests, who included Colion Noir and several college classmates, went to a shooting range to practice tactical movements and fire semi-automatic rifles. The ceremony was held at a resort called the Broadmoor, a cluster of Italian Renaissance buildings set on five thousand acres at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain.... The groomsmen, in black tie, toasted one another with twenty-three-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, which can sell for three thousand dollars a bottle. During the ceremony, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic played on the terrace.
Given the apparent falling out between the NRA and Ackerman, we wondered what that means for its Colorado Springs operation. We telephoned the firm and were told to submit questions in writing, which we did.

We'll update when we hear something.

As a footnote, Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that works toward "commonsense gun policies," issued a news release on April 23, saying, "In light of the revelations from the New Yorker investigative piece, Everytown has filed a complaint about the NRA's tax-exempt status with the IRS, and is calling for federal and state investigations into the NRA's operation as a tax-exempt organization."
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Friday, April 12, 2019

Salvation Army gets new disaster response vehicle from FedEx

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 11:05 AM

COURTESY SALVATION ARMY
  • Courtesy Salvation Army
When someone loses their home to fire or flooding, they need help.

Now, the Salvation Army has a new vehicle to help in times of disaster, thanks to a $114,000 disaster response vehicle customized and donated by FedEx, the agency announced in a news release.

The new vehicle is more than just a sleeker version of The Salvation Army’s current disaster response fleet, the Salvation Army said. It also will save the agency money because it's more economical to operate and maintain.

From the release:
The vehicle’s smaller size and 4-Wheel drive capabilities allow us to respond in areas we cannot reach with the large mobile feeding units or during severe winter weather.

“With the addition of the new disaster response unit, we will be better prepared to serve than ever before.” says Major Mike Dickinson, The Salvation Army Intermountain Divisional Commander.

FedEx has a long history of supporting disaster relief and recovery efforts including assisting with The Salvation Army’s relief efforts following last year’s wildfires and March’s bomb cyclone.

“FedEx is proud to support The Salvation Army’s emergency response programs through our FedEx Cares Delivering for Good initiative.” said Jenny Robertson, vice president Corporate Communications, FedEx.
 
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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Urban Peak will bring mental health care to homeless youth on the streets

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2019 at 4:06 PM

urban_peak.jpg
Barriers to mental health care exist for everyone, but people experiencing homelessness — and especially homeless youth — have the odds stacked against them.

"While close to half of youth in homelessness struggle with mental illness and substance abuse, the support they need is too far away, takes too long to schedule, and is often with clinicians who lack specific expertise working with youth in homelessness,” Urban Peak Colorado Springs Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen was quoted in a recent statement from the nonprofit, which serves homeless youth.

A $5 million federal grant, announced April 9, could help address those challenges in Colorado by bringing mental health care directly to teens and young adults on the streets.

Over the next five years, the funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will pay for mental health clinicians to provide street outreach for youth ages 16 to 25 in Denver and Colorado Springs. The providers will contract with Urban Peak in both cities, which will, in turn, contract with the state's Office of Behavioral Health on the project.

The project is driven by three major goals, according to a statement from that state office: 1) identify homeless youth suffering from serious mental disorders and/or intellectual developmental disabilities; 2) promote collaboration across state agencies to increase youth access to mental health treatment; and 3) connect homeless youth to "public benefits, employment and social support and recovery services."


In Colorado Springs, the funding will allow Urban Peak to embed two clinicians in street outreach and add a case manager to provide wraparound services.

"While some of the help will look like traditional counseling in an office-type setting, much will happen in varied chunks of time across varied environments," Urban Peak's statement explains.

Urban Peak Colorado Springs already has an outreach team that hands out resources and connects youth with housing services (including the nonprofit's own transitional housing program and 20-bed shelter), but the team currently doesn't provide mental health care.

The grant will allow Urban Peak to begin contracting with clinicians this summer, Kemppainen says.

“The whole premise [of having providers do outreach] is to meet youth where they are, when they need it," she says. "...Mental and behavioral health support is crucial to creating the housing stability, employability and self-reliance youth need to exit homelessness.”
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