Monday, April 12, 2010

More from 2010

So Colorado Springs is an unusual place, it seems to me. The first city in the country to sell advertising on the sides of school buses as a means to stretch budgets. Among the first to attempt to establish legal discrimination based on sexual orientation. The first to crow about its terrific natural attributes, while simultaneously dismantling access to them and associated services. Living here, it's often difficult to tell the rhythm of the national pulse, because we seem to have such a distorted view here, and yet, as with some of those things noted above, we seem often to find ourselves at a sort of cutting edge, (or is it a slashing, burning edge?).

Homelessness has been all the way up on the front page of our news around here for several months. Around Christmas time last year the local media began focusing on the burgeoning camps along the highly visible areas of Fountain and Monument Creeks. The community, which seems to have been largely ignorant of the fact that they shared the region with a significant number of impoverished and homeless folk prior to the "news" coverage, leapt to its feet and with little foresight, began establishing a huge glut of random supplies in the camps. The campers, (surprise!), had no way to manage the trash generated by the not-quite-random acts of kindness, and admittedly often hadn't the organizational skills to prevent a huge mess. Within a month, news coverage had shifted from compassionate to distasteful, to downright antagonistic, labeling the camps as, in milder statements eyesores, or in graver terms blaming the campers for Colorado Springs' economic woes.

Local enigma Bob Holmes of The United Way and a coalition of disparate groups banded together to force the passage of an anti-camping ordinance in town, followed last week by a nearly identical county ordinance. The camps are now gone, pretty much. Bob, the CSPD's "HOTT" Team, (a handful of city police assigned exclusively to the havenothings), and other sources agreed previously that there had been around 500 campers. So where did they go? It appears that many, if not most, have moved into local motels funded by a grant from the Springs's fairy godmother, the El Pomar Foundation.

Here comes the meat of this particular thing. Perhaps chief among the current homeless hideaways is the Express Inn, located in the heart of camper territory at I-25 and CO Highway 24. God bless 'em, the folks behind the renewed purpose of the old, hopelessly decrepit Inn seem to be beyond overwhelmed. Although the key players in what really amounts to a very small bit of the overall drama involving the campers in town are obviously motivated and compassionate, (except for Bob and his pals, maybe), very minimal oversight or planning has gone into the Express Inn project. The result, in the parlance of the Inn's clientele, is a clusterfuck.

Mind that the sample from which the perception arises is very limited, but word is, paramedics respond to the Inn on a better than nightly basis. Random sponsored clients are housed together, three to a room. Nothing proactive is done to address the various, often uncontrollable habits of the residents. The rooms are not cleaned or maintained, really, and conditions may have been more sanitary along the riverbeds. Altercations among folks with conflicting habits are inevitable, and some who have spent years in unrestricted pursuit of self-destruction are without any direction at all, so far, as how to manage an abrupt and drastic social change find themselves hopelessly out of place. Management handles problems along this vein by summarily ejecting offenders.

In spite of whatever noble intent may be behind the project, none of this is going to work! Funding for the Express Inn and other similar scenarios in town is expected to disappear in a month, (unless some cryptic hints by El Pomar turn substantial). It doesn't really matter. Unless some significant motivation and assistance is provided for the once and future homeless in the discussion, they will not benefit, nor will the city of Colorado Springs, from this plainly temporary fix. Some residents with a bit greater alacrity at societal maneuvering may luck into a less tenuous situation following the Inns, but when it happens it will be mainly a matter of blind fortune. Most will find themselves in worse straights than the were when the HOTT Team threatened them into a scenario without consultation. The questions posed at various meetings before this solution presented itself remain. What are the campers supposed to do now?

We'll see if we can figure it out in another post. In the meantime, here's a link to a posting by Kathy Kelly posted earlier this year. She sets out to address homelessness in ColoSpgs and immediately becomes derailed in an anti-military rant. Funny thing is, she's probably right.

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