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Numerous items including blankets, a bike and a wagon cover a path near a creek on Nevada Ave.

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People gather near Las Vegas Street during a food break as they move items from one location to the next.

Many stretches of the Southeast reveal scenes of homelessness that are common across the country.

You see tents, occupied or abandoned, meager supplies of water and food, and people hovering around medians begging for handouts. 

While Colorado has reduced the number of homeless people since 2012 when it reached nearly 17,000, the population still hovers around 10,000. In El Paso County the number hovers around 500 living outside and more than 1,100 in shelters. So far this year, 11 unhoused people have died.

“The last thing that happens in poverty is people lose their place to live,” said Beth Hall Roalstad, Homeward Pikes Peak executive director. “[Homelessness] is the sad ending of a personal, emotional and family safety net. They don’t have strong family or community ties anymore, so they end up without resources or help. I wanted to be a part of people who find themselves in that situation.”  

Homeward Pikes Peak is one of several organizations seeking to build a bridge between anyone who experiences homelessness and a return to work, family and shelter.

Roalstad is one of multiple players in the community who hopes to find permanent housing solutions.

The road to homelessness can occur in many ways, Roalstad said. Money, escaping a broken home or an abusive marriage, lack of resources and a mental breakdown, among others.

For the upcoming series in the Southeast Express, we will explore homelessness, the mental health issues, speak to someone who has overcome the odds to lead a successful life and discuss what’s being done to find homes for people in Southeast Colorado Springs. 

MENTAL HEALTH

Roalstad said nearly 70 percent of the people who are chronically homeless — defined as anyone living on the street for a year or more — are mentally ill.  

“I think it might be higher, but those are the numbers I’ve seen.” Roalstad said. 

However, not all who wind up homeless started with mental health issues. Some become unhoused as a result of an unanticipated crisis or a job loss.

“We have a client who was in the health care industry, but the stress and strain of the level of responsibility started to contribute to his poor mental health,” Roalstad said. “He had a mental health breakdown and paralyzing anxiety and he could no longer work. Then he could no longer pay the rent and he was living in this state and his family wasn’t in a position to help him and he ended up homeless. … That continued and now he’s considered disabled.”

FINANCIAL/HOUSING ASPECT

It is well  known housing prices in the Southeast are outpacing incomes.

Steve Posey, Colorado Springs Community Development Division manager, said the average area household income in the Southeast is $39,832. 

This means Southeast residents earning $40,000 with rent of $1,220 pay nearly 27 percent of their salary toward housing.  

“I think as we move through 2022 and we start to see a few more of the apartments actually get finished and leased, rents will slightly come down,” Posey told The Express. “But I don’t think they’re going to drop back down to that $1,000-a-month level. We’re in a market right now where those rents are going to stay strong.”. 

WHAT'S BEING DONE?

During the height of the pandemic, Roalstad said Homeward Pikes Peak received funding to purchase motel rooms to help house homeless. 

Though it was a temporary solution, it provided a reprieve to those in need. 

But what about the long term?

Sarah Seales, a housing navigator in Colorado Springs, meets once a month with other housing service staff to discuss solutions about housing issues.

Seales said housing placement professionals work with private landlords and rental agencies to address concerns about income discrimination, voucher acceptance and a need to work with tenants who need homes. 

OUT OF THE MUD

While The Express hopes to highlight the difficulties facing homeless and how the area is doing in terms of assistance the goal is also to highlight success stories.  

Not everyone who enters homelessness remains there and The Express will focus on individuals who have made the transition to jobs and shelter.

Various organizations and their professionals have successfully guided locals out of homelessness and to productive lives. 

Jansen Howard, Homeward Pikes Peak Street Outreach program manager, experienced homelessness and lived in a variety of locations for more than four years. 

At 22, in 2012, a friend approached Howard, who was outside a liquor store, and gave her a card with a $1,400 limit. 

“He said he got it from a grant from college,” Howard said. “I thought ‘That’s my ticket out.’” 

Howard attended Pikes Peak Community College that year and now “is an internship away” from receiving a Master’s degree in Art Therapy. 

“I started as the first street outreach worker that Homeward Pikes Peak had and was quickly able to double the capacity,” Howard said. “Now we’ve tripled our team and … I started an outreach/art studio program at the Springs Rescue Mission. We’re hoping to expand to more locations. … I’m really happy with how far I’ve come since a decade ago.” 

Reporter

Marcus Hill is a reporter for the Southeast Express and Schriever Sentinel. He graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2012 with a degree in Mass Communication.