Salvation Army accelerating shift to housing Colorado Springs' homeless families

By Jakob Rodgers Updated: September 29, 2017 at 9:43 am • Published: September 28, 2017 0

The Salvation Army doubled down Thursday on its shift toward homeless families by announcing sweeping changes at its shelter and a new housing program.

By mid-2018, the nonprofit's Shelter & Services at R.J. Montgomery facility will cater solely to homeless families, said Capt. David Kauffman, who leads the Salvation Army's El Paso County chapter. In the process, space there for single men and women will be phased out.

The Salvation also plans to expand a separate housing program, which offers apartments to homeless families near its Yuma Street headquarters.

"The model we're using really focuses on the strengths of people, and allows them to dream a dream, and then everyone comes alongside them," Kauffman said.

The Salvation Army's announcement comes as nonprofits in Colorado Springs increasingly specialize their help for different demographics within the homeless community.

Last year, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado pivoted toward helping homeless families, while leaving care for single men and women to the Springs Rescue Mission at its burgeoning campus south of downtown Colorado Springs.

Mayor John Suthers hailed the Salvation Army's move.

"The amount of coordination and collaboration that is going on is really putting us in the right direction," Suthers said.

The R.J. Montgomery facility, which has slightly more than 200 beds, is currently open to anyone seeking shelter. However, they must be sober and adhere to several other rules.

Forty beds are currently reserved for families, with the rest open to anyone needing shelter.

That will change Nov. 1, when half of the facility is transformed into a family-only center. The rest of the facility will transition to family use likely by summer 2018, Kauffman said.

The decision puts added pressure on Springs Rescue Mission to house adults without children - even as it struggles to accommodate the current, crushing demand for beds at its campus off Las Vegas Street, west of South Tejon Street.

Its facility - the city's only shelter not requiring sobriety for admission - routinely operates far above its capacity. This week it sheltered nearly 300 people on average a night - about one-third of whom slept on overflow floor mats.

Larry Yonker, Springs Rescue Mission's president and CEO, voiced confidence the nonprofit could meet those needs.

He said he had spoken to Colorado Springs officials and other nonprofits about creating more shelter space.

"We're exploring everything we can," Yonker said.

The Salvation Army has typically had dozens of beds go unused over the last year - a fact that several homeless advocates attributed to its zero-tolerance approach for certain rule infractions.

Despite the open space, the Salvation Army still turned away 10 to 15 homeless families a month, due to the logistical challenges of housing them at the facility, Kauffman said.

For years, fathers were told to stay in the men's side of the shelter, while mothers stayed with their children in the women's side.

The arrangement, as well as its rules policy, was intended to keep visitors safe. However, families experiencing homelessness often bemoaned being split up, and some even refused to seek shelter at the facility as a result.

Kauffman said the shelter's new focus will help remedy that problem by keeping families together - giving them a better shot at working their way off the streets.

"We will be at capacity lickety-split," he said.

In addition, while still requiring sobriety, the nonprofit plans to soften its rules policy, Kauffman said.

The nonprofit also plans to restructure and expand a housing program over the next several months at its Yuma Street campus. A second facility will be added to the program, bumping its capacity from 17 units to 24 or 25 units.

There, homeless families will be allowed to stay for six to 12 months while searching for work and an apartment.

The goal is to create a pathway to more permanent housing for families staying at the R.J. Montgomery shelter, Kauffman said.

"It's two campuses with the same goal," he said.

Renovations for the shelter and the housing project are expected to cost $1.3 million, said Jeane Turner, a Salvation Army spokeswoman.

So far, the nonprofit has received a $30,000 grant for the project, and it plans to seek other grants and donations to fund the remaining work.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter: @jakobrodgers

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