Homeless in Fort Collins: An inside perspective

Fort Collins resident Todd Smith smokes a cigarette ouside of IHOP on College Ave. Wednesday. Smith has been a regualr to IHOP for the past 10 years, spending his days of sipping coffee and reading.
Fort Collins resident Todd Smith smokes a cigarette ouside of IHOP on College Ave. Wednesday. Smith has been a regualr to IHOP for the past 10 years, spending his days of sipping coffee and reading.

Across the table sipping a cup of black coffee at the Bean Cycle in downtown Fort Collins, Todd Smith, 30, openly shares his life as one of the many homeless people in this area.

“Over the last eight, nine years it’s been an addiction issue really,” Smith said. “But the last three years, the reason I’m in the mission now is actually because of the economy, it’s not because of my drinking. I got my drinking together about three years ago.”

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Originally from Burley, Idaho, Smith and his family moved to Fort Collins in 1995. He attended Fort Collins High School and got his GED in 2006.

“I did try college through Steven Singer online about three years ago and I thought I was stable enough. I’d had my own place for almost two years, but it turned out to be the paycheck to paycheck,” Smith said. “They say the average American is living paycheck to paycheck, is one paycheck away from being homeless.”

“That pretty much turned out with the last time I lost my house which was about three years ago,” Smith said. “I lost my job and couldn’t find one fast enough and ended up having to move out. So I withdrew from college. I’m still considering it in the future but I know I have to be a little more stable before I can do it.”

Currently working for Labor Ready, Smith is utilizing Fort Collins Rescue Mission to save money. The mission’s goal is to provide people who are homeless with the tools they need to get back on their feet. They help these people get a job, save money and move out.

“I think we’re doing well, I think it’s a matter of the community doing more than an initial thing,” said Todd Konstanty, the assistant director of the Fort Collins Rescue Mission. “Someone needs more than a home. They need skills, and they need some more programming to get them out of that, to help long term.”

If there was a facility such as a halfway house in Fort Collins, the place would be filled within a month, according to Smith.

“There’s lots of stuff in progress but it’s not here right now. And I understand that it can’t happen overnight but there’s been these boards and inquiries for ten years in the city of Fort Collins,” Smith said. “You can get a lot done in ten years and nothing’s been done.”

The Fort Collins Housing Authority builds units that specialize for people who work, and Section 8 gives vouchers for the disabled. According to Smith, however, there are no vouchers available for somebody who is homeless and living in a shelter to get an apartment — it doesn’t exist.

“I would think the biggest thing that needs to be said about it is that everybody in this city doesn’t think that there’s that big of a homeless issue,” Smith said. “If something were to happen to one of the two shelters here in Fort Collins, there’d be 75 more people that wouldn’t have a place to stay.”

If it weren’t for the shelters in Fort Collins, Smith believes that he would be dead by now.

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Facing a constant stigma associated with being homeless, he’s not asking for a handout, but rather, understanding.

“Just be aware that there are homeless people out there,’ Smith said.

Collegian Writer Cassandra Whelihan can be reached at news@collegian.com.