For many, cold weather ushers in a time for cuddling beneath warm blankets and sipping from hot mugs.
But for people experiencing homelessness, it means a change of plans. Sleeping outdoors when the temperatures fall into the teens or even single digits is a dangerous act. So, homeless shelters gear up to help more of Colorado’s neediest residents across the state as they leave makeshift dwellings behind for the indoors.
The Colorado Springs Rescue Mission has seen a huge influx of need since October, and were having to turn 20 to 30 people away at night. Travis Williams, the organization’s chief development officer, said they were hard at work to change that.
“Just recently we have made a decision to increase our shelter capacity by 50 percent,” Williams said. “That's an intentional move for us on working with the city to make sure that there are additional shelter beds as we move into the colder temperatures.”
That change, which came on Dec. 1, means the Rescue Mission can now house 450 people and haven’t had to turn anyone away. The expansion should stabilize their outreach throughout the frigid months to come.
The Colorado Springs Rescue Mission has low barriers to entry, meaning the shelter sees higher patronage.
“One of the things that’s nice about the Springs Rescue Mission is, it’s low barrier so it’s come as you are,” Williams said. “So if somebody has a pet, if somebody is struggling with addiction, we’ve done everything we can to remove as many barriers as possible to allow people to come into the shelters and get out of the freezing temperatures.”
The temporary warming shelter in Pueblo has similarly adopted a low-barrier model by allowing people experiencing homeless to come in at any time of night. They also allow patrons to “check” items that would disqualify them from being admitted to more traditional full-service shelters.
Kathryn Cline, Pueblo Rescue Mission’s executive director, said she believes all who wish to seek shelter will find it there.
“Because the setting that we’re in is a warehouse so we have the ability to really expand,” Cline said. “We do have mats and some cots so we have the ability to continue to move towards the other end of the building. So I think we’ll be in good shape with the space that we have.”
The majority of Colorado’s homeless population stays closer to downtown Denver where a larger number of resources are available.
Mike Sinnett, the vice president for shelters at Catholic Charities, said their numbers are up about 10 percent, putting them close to capacity.
“We’re already starting to see an influx of additional guests in our shelters at night,” Sinnett said. “The weather, even though it’s just starting to change we’ve already been experiencing peak loads for pretty much the last 60 days.”
So far Catholic Charities has been able to accomodate everyone and their goal is not to turn anyone away.
Looking to help those staying in shelters this winter? Coats, sleeping bags, sock and underwear are the highest-demand items across organizations statewide.