Fort Collins homeless committee starts ‘sticky work’ to address underlying issues



    Talks about centralized homeless services in Fort Collins raise the question of just how much time homeless residents are currently spending on travel to access services. Fort Collins Coloradoan

    Officially, Fort Collins’ homeless population numbers between 350 and 434 residents.

    The annual Point in Time Count required every January by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, counted 350 homeless residents earlier this year.

    The Housing First Initiative from Homeward 2020 says 434 people in Fort Collins have been homeless for six months or more. 

    Advocates, however, believe there are many more — perhaps up to four times those estimates — living on the street, in their cars or couch surfing.

    In the first of a dozen scheduled public meetings Wednesday night, the city’s newly formed Homeless Services Advisory Committee got its charge, a brief outline of current services and paths the committee might take.

    Seeking Shelter: Go inside Fort Collins’ ongoing efforts to end homelessness in this Coloradoan exclusive series

    It’s a “really important conversation,” without an easy answer, City Manager Darin Atteberry said. “If there were one, we would have come up with it years ago,” he said. “It’s sticky work, so stay curious and lean in to the problem.” 

    The committee’s 18 members, comprised of representatives from the faith, business, civic, social services and homeless communities, questioned why no one from Fort Collins Rescue Mission or Catholic Charities was at the table Wednesday night. 

    The Mission and Catholic Charities are two of the largest service providers for the homeless in the city. Deputy City Manager Jeff Mihelich said as such, both could potentially benefit from committee decisions, and the city wanted to avoid a conflict.

    Both organizations will be available as resources, Mihelich said.

    Committee members, however, felt those organizations, as well as Larimer County government officials, should be represented.

    Larimer County “has tremendous resources” that it might be willing to make available if it it is part of the conversation, said Julie Brewen, executive director of Housing Catalyst, which provides affordable housing in Fort Collins.

    Committee member David Rout of Homeward Alliance and the Murphy Center pointed out, “We might directly benefit as well” from the committee’s work. Holly LeMasurier of Homeward 2020 and Nick Verni Lau of Outreach Fort Collins both work with homeless populations and their organizations could also potentially benefit from future committee action. 

    The Murphy Center serves about 3,000 individuals per year, about 2,400 of whom are homeless, according to data presented Wednesday. The Rescue Mission and Catholic Charities, which provide shelter for the homeless, “are beyond capacity,” Mihelich said. “They do the best they can given their current situations.”  

    The committee is expected to discuss at its next meeting, on Dec. 5, whether to expand the group to include the Mission, Catholic Charities and Larimer County. 

    Mihelich said a “housing first” approach, driven by data, is the best practice in making homelessness “rare, short-lived and nonrecurring.” 

    That means the committee will likely determine criteria for a new homeless services site, including housing, and consider potential locations for such a facility. 

    Fort Collins previously identified a site on North College Avenue that was purchased by philanthropist Pat Stryker’s Bohemian Foundation. Atteberry reset the conversation around homelessness after North Fort Collins Business Association members raised a ruckus that they had not been included in the process. 

    The committee is the result of that action. 

    “I am 100% supportive of the work you are doing,” Atteberry told the committee. “We want to start fresh. We are not doing a modification of what we have been talking about. A lot of work went into that, but it wasn’t transparent enough and we want to start fresh.” 

    The committee will make a recommendation to Atteberry, who will make a recommendation to City Council for consideration. 

    Subsequent meetings of the Homeless Services Advisory Committee are tentatively scheduled for 4-6 p.m. Dec. 5, Dec. 23, Jan. 16, Feb. 3, Feb. 24, March 19, April 9, April 30, May 21, June 11 and July 2 at City Hall, 300 Laporte Ave. 

    Committee members are:

    • Lilly Adams, a formerly homeless resident
    • Desiree Anthony, a formerly homeless resident
    • Julie Brewen, executive director, Housing Catalyst 
    • Brian Ferrans, Health District of Northern Larimer County
    • Dean Hoag,  president of North Fort Collins Business Association
    • Holly LeMasurier, Homeward 2020
    • Fernand Leyva, owner of Fernside Landscape and a resident of Hickory Village mobile home park, adjacent to a potential site for a centralized homeless campus 
    • Luke McFetridge of the Midtown Business District, involved in real estate in north Fort Collins
    • Ben Mozer, owner of The Lyric Cinema on North College Avenue
    • Yvonne Myers, Columbine Health
    • Rev. Kristen Psaki of Foothills Unitarian Church
    • Matt Robenalt, executive director of Downtown Development Authority
    • David Rout, Homeward Alliance/Murphy Center
    • Johnny Square, Fort Collins Church Network
    • Jeff Swoboda, Fort Collins police chief
    • Nick Verni Lau, Outreach Fort Collins
    • Alma Vigo-Morales, co-founder of Diversity Solutions Group, which specializes in domestic and global intercultural relations and the creation and implementation of diversity and inclusion strategies
    • Cheryl Zimlich, executive director of the Bohemian Foundation

    Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. 


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