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Meltzner: Fort Collins plans new homeless shelter the right way

Illustration of a homeless individual with a backpack standing in front of a bench with a sign that says 'No Sleeping'(Graphic Illustration by Nick Perl | The Collegian)

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.

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The City of Fort Collins’ Homelessness Advisory Committee has recommended that a new 24/7 homeless shelter be a top priority for the City.

In my previous article, I explained how Denver’s problem revolved around the City’s mismanagement of their homeless shelters along with their approach of establishing “safe” outdoor camps without consulting citizens beforehand.

Brittany Depew, the homelessness response and solutions lead specialist for Fort Collins, acknowledged that Fort Collins did approve an outdoor space similar to Denver’s during the early stages of the pandemic. 

However, she stated that the main goal of this camp was to “keep people safe during the pandemic” and making sure the camp was in close proximity to a shelter so that homeless services were always available was the chief concern.

This is a far different approach than the one taking place in Denver. The thought process going into establishing camps that work for the homeless population — rather than just being a temporary solution to dissolve unsanctioned camps — is important to note. Fort Collins’ sentiment is fueled by advocacy and support rather than the dissolution of a perceived problem.

Speaking on the thought process behind the sites that the committee proposed for the new homeless shelter, Depew said the main factors considered were proximity to homeless services and other shelters and being mindful of how a new 24/7 shelter would impact the surrounding community. 

Fort Collins is dedicated to supporting and rehabilitating its unhoused residents, regardless of how much time it takes.

By taking into account the needs of both the homeless population as well as the Fort Collins community, the committee shows that this is not a problem they are simply attempting to sweep under the rug. Rather, they are attempting to establish a culture where rehabilitation is possible without negatively impacting the community by over-saturating relief services in one area.

Conversely, Denver has shown that their main concern revolves around fixing the problem as quickly as possible, proven by the multiple lawsuits facing the city due to the outdoor spaces that were sanctioned without public support. 

Another factor to consider is public opinion and support of homeless relief programs. According to Depew, it is “important to present a united front” in the face of the housing crisis. While it has not been a major issue in her tenure, “even if public opinion is unfavorable, we will still do everything we can to support our unhoused residents,” Depew said. 

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Depew said the issue of camping and “sweeping” practices is not something Fort Collins has to worry about, as unsanctioned camping in the City does not occur at the level it does in Denver. However, she did state that when enforcement is needed, many different factors are taken into account.

Depew assured that, when intervention is required, unhoused residents are given “24 hours to vacate” and elements such as weather and shelter vacancy are taken into account.

Fort Collins often is more lenient with unlawful camping when there are extenuating circumstances that make finding shelter impossible for an unhoused resident. This is an example of the City putting homeless support first beyond simply enforcing laws.

Depew laid out a general outline of what needs to be done and how the City is pushing forward in its effort to actually get the recommended shelter approved and developed. 

There are site plans that need to be mocked up, code and zoning reviews that need to be done and land that needs to be secured and bought, but even with all this, Depew said that a very rough estimate of completion could be “three years from when the land is secured.”

While this may seem like a monumental amount of time, one must consider all of the legal and legislative hoops that have to be jumped through before development can begin. This time spent working on approval will certainly be worth it when a fully running 24/7 shelter is finally available to the homeless population of Fort Collins.

Fort Collins is dedicated to supporting and rehabilitating its unhoused residents, regardless of how much time it takes. By taking into account both the needs of the homeless and the concerns of the community, they are meeting the problem head-on with a transparent and effective effort that will certainly yield great results.

JD Meltzner can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @jd_meltzner

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  • J

    Jimmy FabrezzioJul 22, 2022 at 2:49 am

    Fort Collins Rescue Mission should never be allowed to operate a homeless shelter within the State of Colorado, let alone in the City of Fort Collins. Look at the mess they’ve created with a smaller facility and at the Denver Rescue Mission.

    The homeless advisory committee was a stacked deck from the moment of its inception. Not one intelligent individual sits on this committee whose formal education is even remotely connected to the successful operation of any kinds of homeless services.

    In short, these individuals are vested in businesses whose continuation of increased homeless persons within the City of Fort Collins is a future for them. That’s how they pay their bills. The organizations they pilot get additional funding by “increasing” the numbers of homeless persons, not decreasing. Look around. They’ve created the mess you see in Fort Collins and it won’t end anytime soon. They’re truly committed to picking the pockets of anyone who will allow them to.

    Reply