Things have been tough in Pueblo for the homeless population. Last May one of the city’s magnet centers for the homeless was shuttered. Complaints from the nearby community were piling up and, before something serious occurred, the city decided not to renew its special use permit.
But in December, after a series of town hall and community meetings, the city opened a new shelter. “It’s close to downtown,” said Pueblo City Councilman Mark Aliff. The new shelter is located at 901 Blake Street in what used to be a food warehouse.
The new facility is “bare bones,” said Aliff. “It will be open from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.” It will not be providing meals, only “cots, sleeping bags and blankets.” The facility will have portable bathroom facilities and will not provide showers for those overnighting. Both men and women will be welcome but “there’s a wall that separates the males from females.”
Still, it is a dramatic improvement from an earlier plan to put up a pair of large tents on the city’s east side, using propane heaters for warmth and providing portable toilets. The plan was deemed unworkable.
The city has allocated $250,000 for leasing the new location. The money includes the $6,000 monthly rent. But the rent only goes through the month of April. The Blake Street facility will then lock its doors and unless the city has come up with a more permanent solution, the homeless will have to fend for themselves. Meetings on what happens after that are scheduled to begin on January 16th.
“We have a responsibility (to the homeless) in our community,” said Aliff. “You can’t ignore it because it’s not going to go away. But I believe my colleagues on City Council are supportive.”
Pueblo’s homeless population is one of the unknowns in this equation. The most recent ‘Point in Time’ count estimated Pueblo’s homeless population at between 1,800 and 3,500. Point in Time is a Department of Housing and Urban Development count of sheltered and unsheltered persons on a single night in January. HUD mandates that there be an annual count of “persons who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing and Safe Havens on a single night.”
There has been an increase in the city’s homeless population in recent years but no verifiable reasons for it. Some in Pueblo believe it is Colorado’s marijuana laws that are drawing people here. But a study by Colorado State University-Pueblo found no credible link between new pot laws and the migration of homeless.
Another theory is that Colorado’s expanded Medicaid program brought people from surrounding states, including Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas where Medicaid was not expanded. Also, some have speculated, that Pueblo and Southern Colorado’s lower cost of rent and utilities may have played a role.
While Colorado has one of the strongest economies in the country, not even a strong economy has erased a growing homeless crisis. “We have a responsibility in our community,” said Aliff. “For humanitarian reasons,” he said, “we have to give the homeless some semblance of life.”