In Colorado Springs, The Salvation Army keeps unhoused families together
After two family shelters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, closed in rapid succession, the city approached The Salvation Army about increasing its shelter capacity and converting the long-serving downtown R.J. Montgomery Center to be an all-family shelter.
The result? The revamped RJ Montgomery Family Hope Center, which has doubled its capacity to house families in their own 250-square-foot rooms. The city funded half of the $400,000 updates, with the Christian organization called COS I Love You and a neighboring apartment complex covering the rest of the expenses.
The Salvation Army Colorado Springs Corps opened the updated space May 11—a day earlier than planned—after storms caused the Arkansas River to flood its banks, leaving many unhoused individuals who camped alongside it without a safe place to go.
“With the heavy rains, a lot of people were being displaced,” said Colorado Springs Corps Officer Captain Doug Hanson who runs the shelter with his wife, Captain Betzy Hanson. “The police kept bringing more and more families to the shelter and our staff asked us if they could open early.”
In the last three months, the RJ Montgomery Family Hope Center has served over 100 households.
“Once a family leaves, another takes its place before the end of the day,” said Jeane Turner, The Salvation Army El Paso County Community Relations Director. “We have even doubled up a few single mom families and are currently sheltering 35 families and 70 children.”
Sixty percent of those families have moved onto permanent housing.
Prior to the remodel, men and women were separated, which meant the shelter was unable to serve single dads. Currently three single dads are in the shelter and able to stay with their children, keeping families intact.
Jose is one of them. He was able to stay with his 8-year-old daughter when the shelter transitioned in May, something he said he was grateful for. During a television interview, he shared how his wife had suddenly passed away in March from diabetic complications and how his daughter, who had just graduated from second grade, also has diabetes.
“We are trying to get everything going and get back to life,” he said. “You can’t just quit. You have to keep things going. [The Salvation Army] is giving families hope.”
The two are now living in a transitional housing program called Family Promise in which case managers work closely with just four families at a time to help them find permanent, stable housing, Turner said.
“It is truly a celebration with the new configuration,” she said of serving single dads.
With more children at the shelter than ever before, the Hansons learned very quickly that they needed more playground equipment and space for them to thrive. Hanson said they hope to install a playground before Christmas.
Additionally, the local Women’s Auxiliary donated $15,000, which will be used to furnish the common areas, including family rooms and the children’s play areas, one of which is dedicated to children ages 4 and under.
“The new atmosphere and transformational rebuilding opportunities for families experiencing homelessness is amazing,” Turner said. “The Family Hope Center is meeting families’ immediate needs as well as providing case management and resources that equip, educate and empower families for success.”
While the emergency shelter is meant to be a 90-day shelter, and families can stay longer if they are working with a case manager, the average stay is just under 60 days, Hanson said, adding even so, the need for the shelter always exceeds its capacity. Engagement with the shelter’s services is also high, he said.
“We provide a continental breakfast and a hot dinner as well as case management services, which while aren’t required, more than 90 percent of people opt to accept the help,” Hanson said.
While the RJ Montgomery Family Hope Center is a blessing to the families currently housed there, each day the intake team turns away between 6 to 10 families seeking shelter, Turner said.
The plan is to start a capital campaign next year to build a brand-new facility to serve even more families on The Salvation Army’s main campus located at 908 Yuma Street. The new shelter would double capacity again.
“We’re confident our plans to build a new family shelter on our Yuma Street Campus is ultimately the best solution to help address the growing problem of family homelessness,” said Hanson. “We’re already seeing a tremendous amount of community support and enthusiasm for the project.”
Recently when Turner visited the shelter, an 8-year-old boy named Marcus ran up to her, a big smile spread across his face as he told her he would be leaving to go to a “real house.”
“He went on to say he was going to miss [the Family Hope Center] because he had made friends and ‘people were nice,’” Turner said.
With reporting by Caramie Petrowsky.
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