COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Where did you sleep last night? For many of us, that's an easy question to answer. But for roughly 1,000 people experiencing homelessness in El Paso County, that answer changes from day to day.
On Monday morning, volunteers will begin the annual Point In Time survey, or PIT count as it's sometimes called.
Westside Cares held a training event Thursday to prepare this year's survey takers.
"It's really important to reflect our community as it is, and not as we wish it would be or as the numbers are easy to get," explained CEO Kristy Milligan.
To increase the accuracy of the survey this year, she enlisted the help of some of the homeless neighbors her charity serves regularly.
"Where they have relationships, where they have credibility, where they have access that other folks might not have to try to bring our counts to a more, to a better number."
One of those neighbors who goes by the nickname of Westside Debby said she was eager to help out.
"They've helped me not just financially but emotionally, physically, with food, bus passes to get to appointments, and such," Debby said.
"If I need a shoulder cry on, one of them is always there."
Debby said she's been homeless in Colorado Springs for nearly 15 years. She hopes her familiarity with others in the homeless community will help them to feel more relaxed about participating in the survey.
"I hope that knowing most of these people I'll bring it a little easier upon them because they know me, they know how I am, they know why I'm here and they know that I mean them no harm."
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development requires communities to conduct a Point In Time Survey every other year. Community Health Partnership manages the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care. Evan Caster, Senior Manager of Homeless Initiatives with CHP explained that Colorado Springs strives to hold the survey annually because of how valuable the data are to local service providers.
"This helps them make decisions on the allocation of funding, it really helps address that from both a Congressional standpoint, but also, you know, some of those strategies that we're hearing from our federal partners too."
Around 30 charities in the Pikes Peak Region serve people experiencing homelessness. One such group is The Place.
When Benjamin Moore graduated from a group home a few years ago, he suddenly found himself without a place to sleep.
"I had just become homeless, I didn't know anywhere else to go," he recalled. "I had just turned 21 like, and for all the youth out there, when you turn 21 you don't know nothing until you actually find out."
He remembered a visit to The Place as a teenager and called them for help. They found him a shelter bed that night.
"It was raining outside, it was cold and I didn't know nowhere to go at the time like it was a blessing," Moore said.
Today he is the one creating that same blessing for other young people. Moore administers The Place Drop-In Center while serving as a member of the AmeriCorps VISTA program.
Shawna Kemppainen, Executive Director of The Place said the most recent data show some 400 young people in Colorado Springs are homeless each month. Her group helped 177 youths transition out of homelessness last year.
"There are a lot of reasons youth end up in homelessness, but whatever that reason is, they're there and our job is to not judge it and help them move forward," she said.
Homeward Pikes Peak is also looking to move forward in 2023 as they prepare to open a new permanent supportive housing development named The Commons.
"We will provide housing for homeless families, individuals, and veterans here," explained Beth Roalstad, Executive Director of Homeward Pikes Peak.
The 50-unit apartment building will open later this Spring. A future addition to the project will bring another 96 units of permanent supportive housing to the property.
Roalstad explained the 'housing-first' concept behind permanent supportive housing developments.
"When you are using an emergency shelter, it is hard to predict when you can go to a doctor's appointment and even bring those body senses down enough that you can fully participate in counseling services and activities like that."
The surge in the omicron variant of COVID-19 caused the 2021 Point In Time survey to be canceled. Caster said the 2022 survey showed emergency shelter use in Colorado Springs grew compared to 2020.
However, there was a noticeable drop in the number of people considered "unsheltered" under the survey. HUD considers anyone sleeping in tents, cars, or other areas not intended for human habitation to be unsheltered.
"We did see a pretty dramatic increase, about a 30 percent decrease from the last time that we did our unsheltered count," he said.
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