A homeless campus in 2014? Not in this budget proposal

Published: October 8, 2013, 5:55 pm, by Jakob Rodgers
Suzi Bach, wife of Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, volunteers Friday, June 1, 2012, at the Marion House Soup Kitchen in Colorado Springs. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK/The Gazette file

Suzi Bach, wife of Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, volunteers Friday, June 1, 2012, at the Marion House Soup Kitchen in Colorado Springs. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK/The Gazette file

Amid all of Mayor Steve Bach’s proposals likely to be aired before the Colorado Springs City Council this week, don’t expect to hear one highly-touted initiative: A campus catering to the homeless.

The concept for Sunrise Village — a one-stop shop for shelter and homeless services — remains on hold, said Aimee Cox, the city’s senior economic vitality specialist. In part, the idea lost momentum when city officials couldn’t find a site.

“Sunrise Village was a concept, and I think that’s getting lost,” Cox said. “… It was starting a conversation. Land wasn’t immediately available. We decided that our energy at this point, given the resources available, we’d be better set building the capacity of our service providers to meet the needs of this community.”

Bach first proposed the idea of a city-spearheaded “quantum leap” in expanded homeless services in fall 2012. Back then, Bach floated the idea of a “campus approach” to serving the homeless, along with using vacant city land for affordable housing, or repurposing some of the city’s 192 parks to help the homeless.

In May, he unveiled his plan for Sunrise Village during a presentation before dozens of nonprofit leaders specializing in homeless services. At the time, he issued a “call to action” in seeking a building or property within a 10-minute drive of downtown.

Then the campus idea stalled.

City officials began reconsidering the campus concept shortly after Bach’s presentation. In July, Bach’s wife, Suzi Bach, said the city has had a difficult time finding property for a campus.

In late September, he again floated the idea of a homeless “refuge” and a central place to connect the homeless with services during a conference on homelessness hosted by Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak

“You’re going to hear a lot more about that by the first of the year,” Steve Bach said.

The mayor was referring to the idea of a day center — one devoid of overnight shelter, but able to house a variety of services, Cox said. That idea is in the “research phase,” she said.

One focus that remains: Building the city’s affordable housing capacity, city officials said.

Steve Bach again floated the idea of using some of the city’s current underutilized or empty real estate to beef up affordable housing options.

Opening up any new units in 2014, however, could prove difficult.

There is a lack of builders in the Pikes Peak region willing to build low income housing projects, Cox said. Funding also appears to be tight next year.

Bach released his proposed 2014 budget on Monday, one that projected a 15-percent cut in federal grant revenue — the city’s main source of funding for homeless initiatives.

In the budget, city officials cited automatic federal budget cuts that began on March 1 — otherwise known as sequestration — as the reason for cuts from the Community Development Block Grant and from Home Investment Partnership Act grants. Revenue from those programs also is projected to decrease.

In all, the city estimates it will receive $691,500 less in housing services grant revenue to spend in 2014.

Cox stressed that the figure is an estimate, since the federal government has yet to pass a fiscal year 2014 budget, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2014.

The portion of the budget dealing with economic vitality and housing options will be discussed during a city council work session on Friday.