North Fort Collins business group survey focuses on interactions with homeless

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Business owners in north Fort Collins are getting a chance to register their interactions with homeless and transient individuals as the city considers development of a future homeless shelter in the city.

The North Fort Collins Business Association emailed and hand delivered more than 230 surveys to businesses. The survey includes nine questions touching on safety concerns caused by homeless and transient individuals and whether businesses have experienced or witnessed verbal or physical abuse, drug or alcohol use, loitering or crimes.

Fort Collins Police Services is tracking formal complaints lodged by residents, but “it may not be a true picture of everything going on because there are a lot of things that aren’t reported,” said Dean Hoag, president of NFCBA. Hoag also serves on the city’s Homeless Services Advisory Committee.  

The NFCBA concluded getting more feedback “gives us a true story of what’s going on up north,” he said.

As of Tuesday, there were 26 responses to the survey. The deadline is Friday. Survey results thus far “show lots of concerns and lots of things not reported to police yet,” said NFCBA Secretary Greg Woods. 

The survey comes as the Homeless Services Advisory Committee 2.0, a reconstituted and downsized version of the committee that wrapped up its work in September, is scheduled to meet virtually at 11 a.m. Feb. 26 to discuss questions and recommendations for future homeless shelter options in the city. 

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The original 21-member committee concluded in September the city needed a 24/7 shelter for people experiencing homelessness but made no recommendation on where it should go, how it should be funded or who would run it.

“We know pretty much what’s needed” but haven’t determined where it should go, Hoag said.

Many services for those in need, including Food Bank for Larimer County, Murphy Center for Hope and Salud Family Health Centers are already located in north Fort Collins.

NFCBA has made it clear it feels it has done its part to help those experiencing homelessness and would prefer north Fort Collins not add more services.  

The city previously suggested the best place for a new shelter was land along North College Avenue — a tract purchased by philanthropist Pat Stryker adjacent to city-owned property.

The site was selected in 2019 from among 11 potential areas studied by the city before NFCBA vociferously objected and City Manager Darin Atteberry appointed the committee to study the city’s options. All but one of the potential sites was in north Fort Collins.

The committee said repeatedly that services should not “overburden any part of our community already experiencing a high degree of poverty.” At the same time, it indicated any future facilities that don’t include myriad services should be close to existing services or be on a bus route. 

Prior to the pandemic, the Murphy Center, Fort Collins Rescue Mission, Catholic Charities, Crossroads Safehouse and Family Housing Network had capacity to serve   on average 275 people at a time, but the report said they often served as de facto housing for 300 to 400 people at a time. 

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During the pandemic, shelter capacity has dropped, prompting the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, with the city’s help, to open the temporary overnight shelter on Blue Spruce Drive. 

The NFCBA survey specifically asks if businesses have experienced an increased “negative impact” after the temporary overnight shelter opened in October. The facility is expected to close in April.

Hoag said the survey, in part, will try to identify what impact a permanent shelter might have on North College Avenue businesses and residents.

“Maybe this will give us a clearer picture if this is a good place to locate (a shelter) or do we need to look to more unpopulated areas? More industrial areas?” he said.

Proponents of a centralized campus cite efficiencies in providing services and staffing, sharing the expense of building operations among various providers, avoiding duplication of services and decreasing transportation issues for people who now have to travel throughout the city for services and meals.

Reasons against co-locating facilities included the higher cost of buying a larger parcel of land, difficulty winning neighborhood support, increased cost of security, risk of more undesirable activity, including drug use, and difficulty in meeting the needs of different groups. 

Homeless Services Advisory Committee 2.0 consists of 11 members, most of whom were on the original committee: Brian Ferrans, Health District of Northern Larimer County; Cheryl Zimlich, Bohemian Foundation; David Rout, Homeward Alliance; Dean Hoag, NFCBA; Desiree Anthony, Fort Collins Rescue Mission; Gloria Kat, The Family Center/La Familia; Joe Domko, Catholic Charities; Julie Brewen, Housing Catalyst; Laura Walker, Larimer County; Matt Robenalt, Downtown Development Authority and Seth Forwood, Fort Collins Rescue Mission. 

How to take the survey

North Fort Collins businesses interested in taking the survey can do so at http://bit.ly/2OFOxIV. The deadline is Friday.

How to watch the meeting

The Homeless Services Advisory Committee 2.0 will meet virtually at 11 a.m. Feb. 26 to discuss questions and recommendations for future homeless shelter options in the city. The meeting will be held via Zoom. Click on the event on the online calendar at fcgov.com to find the link and watch the meeting.

Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at patferrier@coloradoan.com. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.