PUEBLO – The coldest months of the year have arrived, and yet still there is no warming shelter for the homeless. In a move of near desperation, giant military-style tents are now being considered as the most viable temporary option.
Pueblo City Councilman Mark Aliff told a group of homelessness experts, advocates, and stakeholders Wednesday night at the Rawlings Library that he is going to ask Council colleagues on Monday for emergency allocation of funding to erect two 40-foot by 40-foot tents in the parking lots of the former Wayside Cross Mission on 4th Street near downtown. Aliff says the Springs Rescue Mission, which owns the shuttered and gutted building, has granted the city permission to use Wayside’s parking lots for the tents. “This is the only location in Pueblo that is zoned for a homeless shelter,” Aliff said.
The urgent need for a temporary warming shelter first arose with the permanent closure this spring of the former Salvation Army building on 13th Street, and in late summer, the botched acquisition of the Bargain Box building at 4th and Chestnut, just east of I-25. Aliff says attempts at utilizing other buildings throughout the county or city have hit dead-ends at every turn.
Initially, Aliff says he reached out to local military installations to try to acquire the tents, but to no avail. “We reached out to Fort Carson, we reached out to Peterson Air Force Base and the National Guard, and was turned down by all three,” Aliff said. A local company will instead provide the tents. Aliff says the idea right now is to heat them with propane heaters.
Major logistical and safety concerns remain, however. “The city, I believe, can provide the security, the tents, the heat, the temporary restrooms,” Aliff said. “But we do have to have people who are willing to stay at the shelter while it’s open and make sure that everything is moving smoothly.” That is why Aliff gathered the experts, advocates, and stakeholders Wednesday night. “What we’re faced with is trying to find who’s going to operate this, and who are going to be the volunteers or the groups that are going to man the shelters?”
The group gathered Wednesday night expressed concerns about being able to assemble a group of volunteers large enough and qualified enough to be able to handle the extreme difficulties that can arise in a low-barrier shelter situation. “The folks who are going to be at this shelter are going to be really some of our most seriously mentally ill, our most critically chronically homeless folks, so we have to have some sort of expertise in dealing with those,” said Anne Stattelman, former Executive Director of POSADA. Other concerns include safety, sanitation, segregation of men and women, mental and physical health monitoring, security, and fire or carbon monoxide poisoning risk.
Aliff estimates the cost to run the tent shelters would be about $10,000 per month. He says that if Council approves emergency funding, the tents could be erected and operational as early as next Tuesday or Wednesday, but the group gathered Wednesday night had serious doubts about the possibility of being able to safely staff and operate it that quickly.