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Jan 24, 2012 7:54 PM by Matt Stafford

Local homeless counted, with federal funding on the line

How many people are homeless in Colorado Springs? What can be done to help?

These questions have been asked a lot around Colorado Springs in the past couple of years. Tuesday, groups were out searching for answers.

"...And your birthday?" a volunteer asks a man coming to the Marian House Soup Kitchen for lunch. It's just one of several items on a questionnaire that people are using in El Paso County to count the homeless. More than 70 volunteers made the rounds, with about two million dollars in federal funding that's been applied for locally on the line.

"To support individuals that are on the verge of homelessness get into permanent housing," is what Rick Garcia, region VIII administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, says the funding will be used for.

H.U.D. does a count first to know what's needed; they do them once a year. It takes help from the community; like soldiers volunteering time, as well as some of the groups that hope to use the federal money. The homeless situation isn't new to many of these folks; they've been working with the tent campers, especially when that became illegal.

"We've reduced that number by about two-thirds over the past couple years," explains Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak; down to about 240 people. His group has helped get 220 homeless individuals into jobs so far.

Holmes says today's homeless are different.

"Now we're seeing small families - more men and women with kids - and they've got two 8-dollar-an-hour jobs; one of them lost a job and they've opted to keep the car instead of the apartment," describes Holmes.

So how many are there?

"We're somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000," Holmes adds. Many of those families end up in places like the Aztec Motel; of 77 people staying there right now, 44 are children.

Those family issues are part of the reason Holmes is striving for the best count they can get; funding to help depends on it. They set up at places like the local soup kitchen, but also checked the usual hangouts to catch people.

Joe Frank Terrazas answered their questions.

"If you want the help, it's out there," says Terrazas, a homeless Vietnam veteran. "The system is out there for us; we've just got to learn to use the system and not misuse the system."

Terrazas answered the questions because he wants the federal officials to know exactly what they're up against.

"Most of the resources that are here are based on the kindness of other people; donations and stuff like that," adds Michael Kilburn, another homeless person who helped by participating in the count. "As in federal funding, I don't see it happening."

Kilburn tells us that everything comes down to jobs. He says that's why he's homeless, and he doesn't know how long it'll last.

Organizers of Monday's count were still working on final numbers by the time this story was posted; they say it may take some time to get to a final tally.

Similar counts are going on around the country during the same week; federal H.U.D. representatives came to the count in Colorado Springs because they specifically wanted a look at numbers for homeless veterans.

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