Fort Collins works to eliminate Homelessness by 2020

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Vanessa Fenly, Homeward 2020 project director speaks to volunteers during training session on Tuesday evening. (Photo credit: Josephine Bush)

The point is to make homelessness short-lived, rare and nonrecurring in Fort Collins by 2020.

June 24 and 25 mark the second point-in-time survey of this year, aimed to help Homeward 2020 count the number of individuals who currently lack a home.

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Surveying develops a deeper understanding of the demographic of who is experiencing homelessness and how long they have been homeless, among other general facts. These statistics can then be used to create more resources within the community.

According to Vanessa Fenly, Homeward 2020 project director, the ultimate efforts are to equip Fort Collins with more affordable living options.

The winter survey, which took place this past January, noted that 289 people were experiencing homelessness. This number only accounted for those who were outside or were staying in shelters and did not account for those who may have been living with friends or families during the coldest time of the year.

“We are doing a point-in-time survey in the summer to see if there are any seasonal changes,” Fenly said.

In the past, Homeward 2020 has only conducted surveys in the winter. They are expecting more individuals who are “travelers,” or just passing through, rather than people who are here year-round, according to Christine Kneeland, the Homeward 2020 Chair and a CSU adult education alumna.

Over the two-day period, approximately 100 volunteers will be surveying those who are homeless.

The questions are more basic for the summer survey, but focus on gender, age and the length at which participants have experienced homelessness. Questions also ask if the individual is a veteran or if they are struggling from any mental health disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder.

“I’m looking forward to getting more involved,” said Adam Concannon, a senior journalism and technical communications major.

Concannon volunteered at Catholic Charities Wednesday and Thursday during the lunch period, surveying those who come in. He works at the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, which connected him to Homeward 2020.

Similar to Homeward 2020, the goals of the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado are to create a more tight-knit community which thrives through means of giving.

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City Council Member Jerry Horak has volunteered before.

“It is an eye opening experience. I was surprised how many camps we saw and how many people we contacted us between Martinez and the Lindel River alone,” Horak said.

He said in January, there were about 15 camps alone in the short distance, and his group surveyed about 12 people. According to Horak, some people would flee, and some were fine with being contacted.

“The summer brings about new issues. We expect more travelers in town and panhandling becomes more aggressive in the summer months due to the weather,” Horak said.

According to Zachary Penland, an employee at the Murphy Center for Hope and coordinator for the point-in-time project, understanding the people who are experiencing homelessness gives insight on how to better support them and have a better awareness of the resources they need.

“The Murphy Center for Hope specifically serves about 150 people daily. However, between 300 and 400 people have their mailing address as the Murphy Center,” Penland said.

The majority of people who come to the Murphy Center are generally individuals experiencing homelessness. Penland said that about 75 percent of the people who come in are individuals, while about 25 percent are families.

“We offer a full spectrum of services from showers, laundry mats, counselors and  computers for individuals to build resumés on,” Penland said.

The Murphy Center also outsources to many other non-profit agencies in order to support the homeless in our community.

“This survey under the umbrella organization of Homeward 2020 will allow us to understand what percentages are here and also how we can better cater to them,” Penland said.

After long hours of planning, work from various agencies and the support of local volunteers, Homeward 2020 will find another baseline number of the amount of homeless people there are in Fort Collins. These numbers will help agencies understand the resources they must advance and move forward to make permanent housing a reality.

“Most people are receptive to our volunteers, they feel comfortable. The volunteers are nice people who want to hear and engage in their stories,” Fenly said. “The point is to make homelessness no longer around by 2020 and provide affordable housing and resources as we move forward.”

Collegian Senior Reporter Josephine Bush can be reached at news@collegian.com.