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Pueblo’s temporary warming shelter open at long last

Posted at 9:15 PM, Dec 17, 2018

PUEBLO – Utilization of a long-awaited temporary homeless warming shelter has been scant so far, but the head of the Pueblo Rescue Mission expects that to change.  “It takes a little time for people to develop a trust that this is going to be where they want to come,” said Kathy Cline, director of the Mission.

The shelter at 9th and Blake opened its doors for the first time Saturday, but attracted only 15 clients, a combination of men and women sheltered in separate rooms, Cline said.  Unseasonably warm overnight temperatures and minimal publicity surrounding the opening are likely contributors to the low initial attendance.  Between 20 and 30 were estimated to have utilized the shelter on its second night of existence on Sunday.

The temporary shelter is the current answer to an issue that has plagued Pueblo since mid-summer: how and where to bring in the city’s homeless on cold winter nights?  The former Salvation Army building was no longer an option, and costs to buy or lease other buildings in the city proved too expensive or logistically problematic or impossible.  The process of finding a suitable location continued on for months with every potentially viable solution falling apart, until an old warehouse was made available by the owner.  “It’s already made a difference for people, and I think that’s what people need to understand,” Cline said.

Monday, prior to the shelter’s third night of operation under strict hours of 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m., citizens stopped by one-by-one with donations to try to help make clients’ stay more comfortable.  “We are donating about 30 jackets worth, and it’s a little over $1,000,” said Shawnna Santistevan.  “We decided to bring it down and hopefully somebody can use it,” said Elena Johnson, who donated several boxes of toiletries.  “I think that the town and the community really needed this, so it’s going to be a good thing,” Santistevan said.

Two Pueblo Police Corporals were also at the facility Monday afternoon, reviewing with Cline how the first two nights went.  “We haven’t had any issues with anybody,” Cline said.  Police and private security will be on-hand for arrival and departure each day to make sure everything goes smoothly.  “That way, folks get in, they get out with minimal impact in the neighborhood,” said Corporal Lee Karr.  All clients’ belongings are checked for drugs or weapons, which are not allowed inside the facility.  Needles used for drug use are kept temporarily and then returned to the clients upon their morning departure, Karr said, explaining that the needles themselves are personal property and not explicitly illegal.  “That way, we’re not contaminating the area with a whole bunch of needles with people throwing them out right before they get here,” Karr said.

Cline says the benefits of the shelter were instantaneous.  “The very first night, we had a lady come in who had no shoes, no coat, she had nothing.  She came in and just crashed in the corner after she had a little sandwich to eat because she had been living on the streets and this is the first time she didn’t have to keep looking over her shoulder,” Cline said.  “We’re going to make it work.”