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What's next in local homeless situation?

Events this week raise awareness

Local homelessness whats the solution?

- There is much interest and commentary on the ongoing homeless situation in the Colorado Springs area, but what's the next step in finding a solution?

Monday's discovery of people living under bridges in west Colorado Springs, combined with Tuesday's vote by El Paso County commissioners to strengthen their existing no-camping ordinance, have raised awareness on the issue.

"Maybe we can pay the homeless to pick up trash and do other jobs," said Preston Hogan, of Colorado Springs.  "If we create jobs for them, they can have the money to obtain their own housing."

Local law enforcement officials say more resources and an effective plan to address homelessness are needed.

"But it's hard to tell who's really in need and who's not," said Lt. Bill Huffor of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.  "People have to want to be helped, and I'm seeing more people who don't want it."

Tyler Brewer, one of the homeless people living under the bridges, is an example.

"I choose to live out here," he said.  "I love being homeless.  But I'd say half of the people out here are like me, and half are seriously in need."

Complicating the situation is alcoholism, drug use and mental illness among the homeless population.

What else can be done, or should be done?

"I think we're doing all we can," said Travis Williams of the Springs Rescue Mission.  "On a scale of 1 to 10, we're probably a 6, maybe a 7.  We're not where we need to be.  There are significant gaps."

The SRM recently expanded its shelter and will soon break ground on a 65-unit housing complex to serve chronically homeless people.

But the area continues to struggle with an occasional shortage of shelter beds, especially during cold weather.

Linda Schlarb, who owns a west side propane business with her husband, Don, believes tough love is the answer for helping the homeless.

"I think we enable them too much, sometimes," she said.  "We feed them, clothe them, shelter them and give them money.  The line between helping and enabling has become very blurred.  We're taking away any motivation they have to change their situation." 

Statistics show that the homeless population in Colorado Springs has risen 8 percent in the past year, but is below the national average of 12 percent."

"It's not just our problem, it's a national problem," Huffor said.


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