As the city’s second Homelessness Advisory Committee hones in on recommendations for the size, shape and location of a 24/7 homeless shelter, the North Fort Collins Business Association released results of a survey detailing members’ encounters with transient and homeless individuals.
The nine-question survey asked members about specific issues and whether interactions had increased since the Blue Spruce Drive overnight shelter for men opened in the fall.
About 80 members responded, and while the results are anecdotal, they “give us a better picture of what’s going on,” said Dean Hoag, chairman of NFCBA. “There are a lot of incidents that aren’t reported to the police.”
Reports ranged from loitering, littering and aggressive panhandling to drug deals, overnight camping and harassment. Nearly 70% of those answering the survey said incidents have increased since the temporary shelter opened, and 48 said they reported the issues to the police or Outreach Fort Collins, a street-based outreach program.
Police data from the area of the temporary homeless shelter show an increase in the number of complaints involving transient individuals from Nov. 1 to Feb. 10, compared with the same time last year.
Police Lt. Jerry Schiager cautioned that the data from the police department’s computer aided dispatch system that was prepared for NFCBA “is good for looking at overall police activity in an area but may not translate directly into crime.”
Calls related to transient individuals at McDonald’s, Jax Outdoor Gear, King Soopers and Blue Spruce increased from 22 to 33, according to the report.
Hoag said he has presented the police and survey data to the Homeless Advisory Committee, on which he serves. “I hope they will take it into account,” Hoag said. “Wherever they locate a new shelter, it will have the same issues to deal with.”
NFCBA has long expressed concerns about the number of issues as homeless services increased in North Fort Collins, including at the Sister Mary Alice Murphy Center for Hope and the Food Bank for Larimer County.
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“There’s a lot of pain” in the survey results, said Seth Forwood, senior director at Denver Rescue Mission, which runs the Fort Collins Rescue Mission and the temporary Blue Spruce Shelter. “My heart breaks for everyone involved in the incidents. There’s a lot of heartache among business owners and people experiencing homelessness.”
Forwood said he was not surprised by the survey results but was disappointed in how it was formed. “There was a negative bias to it … I’m not surprised at what the survey yielded because of that.”
But if there’s one thing that became evident from the survey, “it’s that we need a lot more resources to help” people experiencing homelessness, Forwood said.
Some survey respondents differentiated between people who were unhoused but were accessing services and those who weren’t.
“I find that those who are in contact with the Catholic Charities or other help are less likely to cause a problem for us,” said one respondent. “It’s the people who refuse to get help that give us a problem.”
NFCBA removed names of businesses responding before releasing the data.
In general, Forwood said it’s not atypical for a few people to cause the most problems.
When the city established a temporary shelter at Northside Aztlan Community Center at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, “we did see those people who chose to stay outside the day and night shelters were the ones we had the most difficult time with,” he said. “Those who refuse services generally present the most problematic behavior.”
Temporary shelter closes in April
The temporary shelter at Blue Spruce will close in April as the weather warms.
It is unlikely the city would extend its lease with the Food Bank for Larimer County, Forwood said.
“It’s my understanding the city is going to honor that it is a temporary shelter and because of that I would doubt they would renew the lease,” he said.
That means the Fort Collins Rescue Mission on Jefferson Street will likely be in play again. “We’re looking at plans as to how we can utilize that facility the best we can,” Forwood said. “Most likely that will mean it will still only serve men overnight and for meals.”
The Rescue Mission shifted its overnight accommodations to Blue Spruce when that shelter opened.
It’s now working with the Larimer County health department on social distancing requirements and whether they can be eased, which “allows us to fit more people into a smaller facility when inclement weather hits.”
Future shelter needs in Fort Collins?
The Homeless Advisory Committee over the next couple of months will narrow the type of amenities and services it would like to see within a 24/7 shelter and where it might be located.
The most ideal scenario, the committee said, includes space for 700 guests during the day and evening; has separate facilities for men; can serve the LGBTQ and other marginalized populations; has an on-site medical clinic; and has space for service animals.
Five areas are currently being studied. All need to have zoning that currently permits a shelter, be within a quarter mile of a bus stop and have bike infrastructure, said Clay Frickey, the city’s redevelopment program manager.
The committee has not narrowed down particular sites, but areas of the city that meet the criteria:
- Sites with existing shelters: Catholic Charities and the Murphy Center
- East Mulberry Street
- North Fort Collins
- Behavioral Health Center site south of Fort Collins
The committee started with the needs of a future facility first, and then considered what areas of the city could accommodate that kind of facility, said Jackie Kozak-Thiel, the city’s chief sustainability officer.
“The process has really started from a blank slate and is currently reviewing options at a high altitude rather than focusing on individual sites,” she said.
Forwood, who also serves on the committee, said the farther from services the facility is, the less likely it is to be used.
“It’s hard to overcome the distance barrier,” he said. “With many of the other services that exist in north Fort Collins, simply from a logistical standpoint, north Fort Collins seems to be the best fit, yet I respect the business owners who are very much dreading having a new homelessness facility in their backyard. That’s going to be expected no matter where this new facility is.”
The committee is expected to deliver a final report and recommendation to City Manager Darin Atteberry before the end of June.
No matter where or when a new homeless shelter is built, Forwood said the Rescue Mission “will do the best it can with the facilities and resources it has to provide a dignified, respectful and caring overnight shelter and meals to our population.” Jefferson Street may have its limitations, “but that’s still our heart and we will keep doing it no matter where we are.”
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at email@example.com. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.