COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Homelessness is a familiar problem in Colorado Springs but less known publicly is the growing number of homeless families and children.
During a Thursday news conference addressing the issue, officials said the number of homeless families more than tripled, from 127 in 2013 to 398 in 2016.
"There are as many as 100 homeless families and 900 homeless children in our area," said Andy Barton, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. "We turn away 10 to 15 families each month because of lack of resources. It's hard for parents to focus on getting their kids to school, or a dentist appointment, finding a job or saving money when they don't know if they'll have a roof over their heads at the end of the day.
Some homeless families stay in the Salvation Army's R.J. Montgomery Shelter on Sierra Madre Street, a facility designed for single homeless men and women, and where 40 of the shelter's capacity of 180 are homeless.
"We've created a special wing in the shelter for them," Jeane Turner, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army, said. "But the bathrooms don't work for them. We need bathrooms more appropriate for a family, that offer more privacy for teens, and parents with small children."
In a campaign called Pathway of Hope, officials plan to expand the shelter's capacity for homeless families from 40 to 80, and renovate an existing 24-unit apartment complex owned by the Salvation Army on Yuma Street to provide temporary housing.
Work is expected to start in November and continue gradually as funding becomes available.
"We have $30,000 so far, but we're going to try to get some grants and donations are also welcome," said Capt. David Kauffman, Salvation Army coordinator. "Our plan is to get people out of homelessness in between six months to a year, working with caseworkers to help people in need."
Kauffman said shelter renovations will cost as much as $500,000, and apartment renovations will cost a similar amount.
"There were families who slept out in the rain, in a car or in a tent last night," he said. "We definitely need these resources."
According to Catholic Charities, nearly a third of homeless families are from outside the area.
"Some families come here because they've heard we have good resources for special needs kids," Barton said. "Others come because we have a low unemployment rate and they've heard this is a great place to live."
For local homeless families, Barton said losing a job, health issues, lack of affordable housing often are factors.
Stephanie Phifer is one of the homeless shelter residents. She has four children and is pregnant with her fifth,
"I was staying with someone and we ran into hard times, so I ended up here," she said. "But I'm thankful for that because my kids are safe and happy. Some parents give up and don't make it this far. It can be depressing and difficult at times. But if it wasn't for this shelter, I don't know where I'd be."
Jennifer Kirby, who has four children, and Corrie Mitchell, a mother of 10, have been homeless since their husbands lost their jobs.
"I wish the resources they're talking about were available when I became homeless," Kirby said. "But I'm glad to hear more is being done for families like ours."
Mitchell said she and her family are hopeful of getting out of homelessness soon.
"We were living in an RV for a while until it got towed," she said. "We were in a house for six months. We've been in and out of motels. I thought once about holding a sign on a street corner and ask for money, but I didn't have the nerve."
Officials said the shelter eventually will serve only homeless families, and that the recent expansion of the Springs Rescue Mission will provide shelter for single homeless men and women.