Southeast Colorado Springs is seeing an influx of people experiencing homelessness.
Homeward Pikes Peak, which works to offer housing and support to the homeless, has seen an increase in the homeless population in Southeast, according to their interactive heat map.
“We have seen a slight increase of unhoused who were found and identified in Southeast,” said Beth Roalstad, the executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak.
Roalstad is not the only one who has noticed. Sgt Olav Chaney, with the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team, said there has been increased demand for enforcement in Southeast Colorado Springs.
“Astrozon [Boulevard] and Hancock [Expressway], behind the King Soopers, about a year ago, we did a major cleanup back there and it was a very huge success,” he said.
“It took a couple days to get all that taken care of, but I think, if I remember correctly, we took 22 roll-offs out of there. We just went out there again a week ago, because they started building things up again, and got that cleaned up again.
“Our goal is, once we tear down a huge camp that’s trashed and just out of control, cleaned up completely and then try to maintain it and not see it get out of control again. That’s why we went in a week and a half ago and took out six or seven campsites and a lot of trash in that area. There’s another area over by Schmidt Construction, by Delta and Hancock. We cleaned that one up about a year and a half ago now, and it’s kind of gotten a little out of control.”
Roalstad notes that as enforcement has increased in the Downtown corridor, with the addition of new apartments and tourist attractions, the homeless population in Colorado Springs has been forced to find new camps.
“Dorchester Park, areas around Springs Rescue Mission, America the Beautiful Park, there’s less people there because of increased police presence with the rise of new tourism destinations. The opening of the Olympic Museum and the connection to America the Beautiful Park and the new soccer stadium have made the community very aware of the homeless population — it became very visible. I think the city stakeholders and police have tried to push people away from downtown.”
Resources offered at the Springs Rescue Mission are unavailable in Southeast. “There isn’t an emergency shelter down there,” says Roalstad. “There’s no meals programs down there, but there are light industry and more vacant space. There’s less eyes looking at homeless individuals there, so I think they’re migrating. It’s not a huge, marked increase, I want to stress that this is not hundreds of people walking down there and setting up tents, but it is noticeable that we have a small increase there.”
The homeless population has to rely on fires or camp heaters to stay warm and cook food because there are so few services in Southeast — and that poses hazards. An Oct. 28 grass fire near the intersection of Murray Boulevard and Chelton Road came dangerously close to houses in the area.
An Oct. 25 fire at Goodwill Industries on South Academy Boulevard caused extensive damage to a number of trailers in the parking lot. Capt. Michael Smaldino with the Colorado Springs Fire Department said the Goodwill fire is still under investigation.
“If you look back at news stories two, three years ago, the fires were happening along Monument Creek, between Nevada and Cimarron,” said Roalstad. “They’ve been pushed out of that area and now [the fires are] elsewhere.”
While Springs Rescue Mission maintains a campus downtown with a variety of services from shelter space and mental health treatment to permanent supportive housing, those offerings are hard to access for those who call Southeast Colorado Springs home.
“I don’t think any of the homeless service providers are actively planning program sites down there,” said Roalstad. “There’s been a lot of investment in meals programs at the Rescue Mission and Catholic Charities and I just don’t think anyone’s going to be setting up another emergency shelter in the Southeast part of town. We do send our outreach workers all over the city, including Southeast Colorado Springs, to meet with people.”
Travis Williams, the chief development officer for Springs Rescue Mission, said the organization is working to address a problem that impacts the entire city.
“We’re always doing everything we can to figure out how to best serve this community,” he said. “Today we are still seeing and serving so many in the community in our current location.
“We haven’t had any specific requests for us to be in any specific areas of town, so I think that’s where we continually work with others to understand the needs, assess the needs with the HOT team and the city and the county.”