The executive director of the agency that coordinates homeless services in the Pikes Peak region says he’s concerned “over some policies and ideas that seem to be emanating” from the Bach administration.
Bob Holmes, head of Homeward Pikes Peak, also said he’s frustrated that he is being kept “at arm’s length” by the city in addressing homeless issues.
“As I have not been able to secure an appointment to see you since you were inaugurated, I feel compelled to update you in this e-mail about some facts that I believe you should know and about my concerns over some policies and ideas that seem to be emanating from you and/or your top staff,” Holmes said early Monday morning in an email to Mayor Steve Bach and the City Council.
The Gazette obtained the email late Monday and will reach out to the mayor’s office first thing Tuesday morning for comment.
In the email, Holmes hints that efforts are under way to move the Soup Kitchen.
“I don’t think some of your current plans are feasible financially, nor do I believe moving the Soup Kitchen will solve the problem,” Holmes wrote.
Here is the full text of the email:
Good Morning Mayor Bach:
As I have not been able to secure an appointment to see you since you were inaugurated, I feel compelled to update you in this e-mail about some facts that I believe you should know and about my concerns over some policies and ideas that seem to be emanating from you and/or your top staff.
The folks utilizing the soup kitchen are not all homeless. As a matter of fact only about 1/3 are homeless. The rest are working poor, or individuals who are too debilitated to work and who are receiving benefits such as SSDI. If they serve about 700+ meals a day, that means that about 230+ are homeless. The Homeless Outreach Team and I agree that there are about 225 to 240 chronically homeless individuals left on the streets after we reached out to over 600 in 2009 and 2010, and moved 435 of them to self-sufficiency or reunions with family on other states.
Of these 230+ chronically homeless, about 2/3 are living with untreated mental illness. Aspen Pointe is a government designated community mental health services agency, but will not see anyone without insurance or Medicaid, except for emergencies. In the latter case, the patient is seen for a short period of time, stabilized and released aback onto the streets with an outrageously expensive prescription for psychotropic pharmaceuticals, which the clients have no money to fill. Most of the individuals with untreated mental illness self-medicate with what they can get, e.g., cheap vodka and drugs.
In a defense of Aspen Pointe, they have had almost yearly funding cuts and Colorado ranks 49th in the US for money spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Concerning panhandling: I believe a significant percentage of the panhandlers are chronically homeless with mental health and substance abuse issues. I also know for sure that not all panhandlers are homeless. Some use it as a well-paying flex-time job. They will remain downtown to panhandle no matter where the Soup Kitchen is.
Moving the Soup Kitchen to the former ARC building: “Out of sight, out of mind” will end up being neither. As far as homeless in the downtown areas: What’s next? Move the library? An alternative might be to fund a type of day program for the homeless; but to be run well and to insure that it wouldn’t become a daytime “flop-house”, proper staffing would need to be provided (read funded).
Your staff should be reaching out to the ACLU and discussing what other cities have done and what I proposed here years ago: an ordinance prohibiting panhandling in certain areas downtown (Cascade to Weber, Boulder to Pikes Peak?) in the interests of public safety. That idea was soundly rejected at the time. If you don’t like that, Denver has designated panhandling areas. Keep in mind, it was only through cooperative work with the ACLU that the City was able to pass a “no-camping ordinance” that has never been legally challenged.
The two factors most contributing to the homeless situation downtown are the lack of mental health treatment, as I discussed above, and the unwillingness of the highest level of management at Catholic Charities (Marian House) Soup Kitchen to participate in a Homeless ID Card system. We received funding from the Downtown Partnership a few years ago for the system and it’s ready to go in short order. Several agencies are on board. However, the biggest entry point in the city for homeless is the Soup Kitchen, and the diocese refuses to consider the idea of using ID Cards. The idea behind the cards is simple. Any people with mental or physical injuries precluding them from achieving self-sufficiency would be issued a card yearly. Others would be given a card for two weeks. During this period they would be eligible for any services in town. However, during the two weeks, they would need to meet with a case manager and begin a plan that would lead them to self-sufficiency. If they continued to progress in their case management plan, all local services would continue to be open to them. If not, services would be closed. Catholic Charities believes that this is not an idea which they, as Christians, can embrace; but the Salvation Army New Hope Homeless Shelter implements this plan as described. Without an active Homeless ID Card system we are feeding and clothing some felons and deadbeat dads who live in homeless to “fly beneath the legal radar”.
I have told City Council members that I am not a “homeless advocate”. I am an advocate for self-sufficiency for the homeless. We need to offer “a hand up, not a hand out.”
I don’t think some of your current plans are feasible financially, nor do I believe moving the Soup Kitchen will solve the problem. Some suggestions, Mr. Mayor: You need to consider lending the gravitas of your office to help persuade Catholic Charities to utilize the ID Card system that we have in place and ready to go. With that system, those who simply want handouts will gravitate to a community that is ok with enabling homelessness. Second, if any funds are to be expended, let them be awarded competitively to providers of mental health services, and hold the winners accountable for an outcome based system of utilization of the funds. Third, the City needs to consider a well-supervised and staffed day area for the homeless. There is no place except the library for the homeless to go during the day. Finally, City needs to enter into a dialogue with the ACLU to find a workable solution to an ordinance limiting panhandling. Panhandling is helpful to neither the health of the downtown nor the health of the panhandlers.
As always, I remain available to discuss any facets of homelessness in the Pikes Peak Region with you and/or your staff at any time, and Chuck Murphy and I have spoken about my assisting his committee in any way that I can. I feel that I have much to contribute in helping to solve the problems surrounding homelessness in the Pikes Peak Region, but I am frustrated at being kept at arm’s length in the City’s addressing of these problems.