Colorado Springs’ first homelessness prevention specialist is heading for a similar position in the governor’s office | Content reserved for subscribers

The city of Colorado Springs’ first homelessness prevention specialist has been tapped to become the first to hold a similar position in the governor’s office.

Andy Phelps will quit his nearly five-year job on June 3 as Homelessness Prevention and Response Coordinator for Mayor John Suthers and start on June 6 as Special Advisor on Homelessness and Housing with Governor Jared Polis.

Andy Phelps is heading to the office of Colorado Governor Jared Polis to help reduce homelessness statewide.

In the same way that Phelps has acted as the city’s liaison with homeless shelters, soup kitchens, housing agencies and other service organizations that help get homeless people back into housing and To stability in life, Phelps will work as the state’s liaison with local communities, Polis said in a phone interview.

One of the reasons Phelps was selected for the job, the governor said, is that Colorado Springs is one of the few cities in the state where homelessness has declined in recent years.

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“Homelessness has become a much bigger issue across the state, and we wanted to learn from cities like Colorado Springs,” Polis said.

One of Colorado Springs’ biggest accomplishments is that the number of chronically homeless people living outdoors, in empty cars or buildings has nearly halved since Phelps joined the city staff in 2017. .

“It shows that when a community comes together and focuses on working on an issue, great things can happen,” Phelps said. “Without the leadership of Mayor Suthers and former City Council Speaker Richard Skorman, we would not have seen the success of our homelessness initiative.”

Former Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach created a plan in 2014 to reduce homelessness, and Phelps launched a new initiative in 2019, which he says has achieved all of the goals.

New programs such as a community housing fund for homeless veterans, street outreach by the city’s fire department, employment opportunities for the homeless to clear the medians of the street through the city’s public works operations and maintenance department, and holding regular video court sessions for homeless people who have minor legal matters are among the new projects.

Colorado Springs has also added more low-barrier shelter beds in recent years for a total of nearly 750; simplified and expanded assistance programs; created more transitional and affordable housing units; strengthened street awareness of the police department; enacted ordinances prohibiting camping on public property and along rivers; ongoing coordinated cleanups of illegal camps; enforced a no-vagrancy policy; and ticketed people begging on the medians, which is considered a safety hazard.

City leaders believe the measures have helped reduce the number of unsheltered people sleeping outdoors, in empty cars or buildings, which fell 19% to 358 in 2020 from 2019, the most recent statistics available for this population.

Homelessness, or what is considered chronic homelessness, also decreased by 13% in 2019 compared to 2018.

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The number of people staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing in El Paso County is also down. In an annual headcount for Ministry of Housing and Urban Development funding purposes, the city saw a 14% decrease in January 2021 from 2020 to a total of 1,156 people.

Conversely, the number of first-time homeless people in metro Denver nearly doubled last year compared to 2020, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative reported in January.

The results of this year’s homeless count which was conducted in February in Colorado Springs have yet to be released, but Suthers hinted at the continued downward trend in the city, particularly the city. chronic homelessness, during a recent visit to an affordable housing complex under construction.

“I think Colorado Springs has had a more effective approach to reducing homelessness than Denver and other cities, by having someone who knows best practices,” Polis said.

That’s not to say Colorado Springs has solved homelessness, by any means, he said.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Polis said. “But it hasn’t gotten worse, and we want other cities to emulate that.”

Homelessness concerns remain one of the top complaints Colorado Springs receives from residents, according to the reduction plan.

As city and county leaders set policies on homelessness issues in their communities, “the state can play a role” in helping reduce its prevalence, Polis said.

Colorado ranked poorly in the nation in the 2021 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress.

According to the report, Colorado had the nation’s largest percentage increase in chronic homelessness since 2007, and also had the second-largest increase in homelessness among families with children between 2020 and 2021.

Polis said he wants to see more drug and alcohol treatment programs statewide, as well as more beds for homeless residents and “not allowing unsafe conditions on the streets.”

State lawmakers passed a set of three bills Polis announced in April to allocate $200 million in federal pandemic relief funds to create a statewide grant program for homeless services and build two homeless recovery campuses in the Denver metro area.

Phelps will work on those projects, Polis said.

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The governor said he decided to add the new position that Phelps fills in his office because of the availability of COVID relief money.

“We want to reduce homelessness and make Colorado safe,” Polis said, adding that his goal is for Colorado to become one of the 10 safest states in the nation within the next 10 years.

Phelps said it was time to turn his life around.

“After five years with the city and the progress we’ve made, I’m ready for a new challenge and excited to work with the team at the governor’s office,” he said.

At a May 20 meeting of members of Pikes Peak Continuum of Care, a consortium focused on homelessness, Phelps thanked local leaders working on the ground for their help and support in helping Colorado Springs achieve its goals. .

“He’s done a lot of great things and helped the city with many homeless initiatives,” said Alison Gerbig, Colorado Springs program manager for Homes for All Veterans at Rocky Mountain Human Services and chair of the board of directors. administration of the continuum of care.

“A big shout out to him for serving us and now for working with the governor,” she said.

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