LTTE: Fort Collins needs a better solution to homelessness

Guest Author

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board. Letters to the Editor reflect the view of a member of the campus community and are submitted to the publication for approval.

To the Editor,

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Eager to get to my warm home on a freezing Wednesday night, I walked briskly to my car as the snow began to fall and came across an all too typical sight in downtown Fort Collins: two police officers shining flashlights in the face of an elderly man buried under blankets outside of the old Lyric theater.

“You can’t sleep here,” one of the officers said.

In fact, you can’t sleep anywhere. Raids by the Poudre River deterred those who tried to camp out of the public eye years ago.

The bright and shiny Union Bar (previously Jefferson Park) stands in stark contrast to the tired looking Rescue Mission across Linden Street. Tall buildings and new businesses replaced quiet corners of north College Avenue, and you really just can’t sleep anywhere without fear of being ticketed for existing as a person experiencing homelessness in Fort Collins.

Working in the human services sector since graduating from Colorado State University’s School of Social Work, my time has been spent working in direct service, nonprofits and in program development with vulnerable populations — an up-close and ugly look at how we have fallen short of our well rehearsed values as a progressive city.

We have to do more as a community and move forward collaboratively.

There have been a few wins for supportive services for the homeless this year, including a settled lawsuit for a mere 11 lockers outside Fort Collins Mennonite Church, emergency relief services and an extra 20 shelter beds. However, is this enough to serve at least 300 people experiencing homelessness in our city?

As churches and shelters gear up for more overnight guests this winter, the North Fort Collins Business Association continues to block the development of a centralized homeless campus in north Fort Collins.

If we want to live in a beautiful city and pride ourselves on our progressive nature, it has to start with the dignity and worth of every person.

The proposed centralized campus could offer homeless transition services and an “affordable housing campus offering health care, permanent supportive housing, mental health and substance abuse counseling and workforce training,” according to Fort Collins Assistant City Manager Jeff Mihelich.

Homeward 2020 and Homeward Alliance partnered to create the Housing First Initiative through the Murphy Center and have collected data on over 400 people currently experiencing homelessness locally. The 10-year project aims to collect data on homelessness to build evidence-based strategies for addressing homelessness.

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However, collecting data on homelessness is challenging and increasingly challenging as policies push those who are homeless further into the shadows, meaning that the numbers are likely an underrepresentation of the whole picture.

One of the more startling pieces of data is the fact that at least 16% of people who are homeless in Fort Collins are minors. Are homeless kids such a threat to downtown businesses that their lives are less important than profits and aesthetics?

The research has produced some evidence-based and actionable steps for addressing and decreasing homelessness in the community: affordable housing, funding housing first programs and reducing housing barriers, long term supportive services and community engagement and education.

Fort Collins needs to rethink policies that target the homeless population and invest in long-term solutions and programs, such as the centralized homeless campus proposal. If Fort Collins doesn’t want poverty and homelessness putting a damper on their city, shelter beds and canned food isn’t going to cut it.

New bars and luxury housing won’t make it disappear, nor will policies that target those who are homeless. If we want to live in a beautiful city and pride ourselves on our progressive nature, it has to start with the dignity and worth of every person.

Advocate for long-term, sustainable solutions to create real change for our homeless neighbors by contacting the City Council at cityleaders@fcgov.com and reminding those around you that all people deserve to sleep safely and wake up in a city that will stand up for change.

Alyssa Esposito

Bachelor of Social Work ‘17, Master of Social Work student graduating spring 2020

Editor’s Note: This article has been changed to reflect the correct name of the North Fort Collins Business Association. A previous version of this article referred to the organization as the Fort Collins Business Association. 

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