BY ANDY BARTON
The annual point-in-time survey is a national data gathering exercise engaging hundreds of volunteers who fan out across the community to survey and “count” the number of people who are experiencing homelessness. In Colorado Springs, the results of this count over the past 5 years have been discouraging: the total number of homeless has increased by 32% since 2013. This year’s count puts the number at 1,551. The number of adults who are homeless rose by 45% and of those, the number who were unsheltered jumped from 199 in 2013 to 457 this year – an increase of 130%. That number alone provides statistical validation for the perception that there are more people living outside in our community.
There was, however, encouraging data in this year’s report. The one category of homeless individuals that went down from 2017 to 2018 was children under the age of 18. Of this population, there was an 18% decrease, moving from 282 to 231. Even more exciting is the fact that last year’s survey found 23 children who were unsheltered and that number was down to 9 this year.
At Catholic Charities, we are cautiously optimistic about what this means. In 2016, we made the decision to increase our focus and resources around family homelessness. In partnership with Family Promise, we opened a Family Day Center at the Marian House. Since then, we have worked with the City of Colorado Springs, the Police Department and the El Pomar Foundation to make motel vouchers available to unsheltered families in the winter months. We took over the operation of Family Mentor Alliance, a program that the Springs Rescue Mission had fostered and housed from its inception. And in December 2017, with the support of generous donors, the Lane Foundation and First Presbyterian Church, we opened Family Connections at the Helen Hunt Campus. Bringing all of our support services together under one roof and being located next door to CPCD / Head Start, Family Connections is a lighthouse for families experiencing homelessness and vulnerability.
We have been able to make these changes because of the philanthropic investment of individual donors, organizations, churches, and foundations. Equally important are the partners we have had in this work. In addition to those already mentioned, Partners in Housing and the Salvation Army have filled critical gaps in housing, shelter, and services for families. With all of these agencies working together and the philanthropic support, we all have achieved something to be proud of: our community has reduced the number of children who are homeless.
What we cannot do now is stand down; instead, we take this data as a sign to invest more. One homeless child is too many and 231 homeless children is heartbreaking; but it’s not overwhelming. With continued work and continued support, Catholic Charities and our allies have hope that we can eliminate homelessness for children in our community.