A few months ago, the issue of homeless camps dominated conversation and headlines in Colorado Springs.
Since then, it has taken a few twists and turns and a few Band-Aids have been applied. But how much closer is the city to a real solution to the problem?
How much have the mayor and City Council led the way?
Sadly, hardly at all.
In January, stories detailing the increased number of tents along Fountain Creek ran repeatedly across the front pages of our newspapers. Scenes from homeless camps led evening newscasts, and a complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency that prompted a ban on camping on public land drew a little national attention — and laughs at the city’s expense.
When it appeared the ban would displace hundreds of homeless people, the El Pomar Foundation threw $100,000 at the problem, which was used to rent some hotel rooms.
It also bought Homeward Pikes Peak Executive Director Bob Holmes some time to help find jobs for 43 people and the time to allow 26 others to complete his program and enter self-sufficiency.
That’s all good news, and it’s also good news to hear that someone from the business community has stepped forward with a plan to turn a former KOA campground into a homeless camping area.
But the money from El Pomar will run out by the end of May, and the campground plan appears to have hit a fatal snag.
So now what?
It’s time for the mayor and City Council to find a long-term solution before time runs out and the camps become crowded again.
The challenge of homelessness is certainly nothing new. Cities have long been faced with the issue, and many have found success.
Denver, Atlanta, Orlando, Indianapolis are cities that all have adopted model plans.
And, in each of those plans, a key individual has led the way.
“It’s the mayor that tasks the community with doing something,” said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “They’ve either asked someone to head a task force or pooled the city’s agencies to find solutions, but it’s always the mayor.”
Well, Mr. Mayor?
The city cannot rely on the next helping hand from an agency, a nonprofit or the private sector to address the problem. Piecemeal solutions are not the answer.
Of all the successful plans that have been found for dealing with the problem, our current look-to-the-other-guy approach isn’t one.
“Pushing around the problem from group to group just never works,” Roman said.
We need not only the mayor’s leadership, but also a commitment to help find a solution from the community’s most prominent players. Focus on the Family, the military, The U.S. Olympic Committee and even the city’s media organizations all come to mind.