Throughout the last election cycle in Las Animas County, two single social issues grabbed the most consistent attention and garnered some of the most heated arguments. These pressing issues are homelessness and opioid addiction and how Trinidad can deal with both.
At the Trinidad Community Center on Tuesday, Dec. 12, Trinidad city officials played host to consultant Katie Symons with LaBeau Developers who state agencies like Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), Colorado Division of Health (DOH), and the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) and presented a focused, progressive and proactive program to provide housing for Trinidad’s homeless population while offering essential services to help the homeless progress towards a ‘normal’ life.
Symons spoke in great detail and at great length on the homeless crisis facing America today. Homelessness and addiction often carrying the same luggage across the same path. Chairs filled and listening with intent, the reception room at the community center occupied with city health and housing managers heard first things first. Who the city need serve first and why. Often within around the coffee table discussions, people attempt to label the homeless as some good and some bad. The good homeless are merely a product of life’s often tragic results. An veteran amputee holding a soggy, rain soaked card board sign on the corner of Main St. and Santa Fe Trail, good homeless. People “choosing” to be homeless, taking advantage of free meals from the Trinidad Soup Kitchen while arriving in a late model sedan, a hotel voucher for an overnight stay out of the weather. Bad. Symons describes the Vulnerability Index as the only means to remove anecdotal conclusion about homelessness based on no actual data or evidence.
The Vulnerability Index serves as a guidepost, a functional tool to help determine the critical need for housing by physical “fragility” alone. Dr. Jim O’Connell and Boston’s Healthcare for the Homeless researched street homelessness and concluded a set criteria to determine resource allocation for people homeless at least six months:
1) More than three hospitalization’s or ER visits in the last year
2) More than three ER visits in the last three months
3) Aged 60 years or older
4) Cirrhosis of the liver
5) End stage renal disease
6) History of frostbite, immersion foot, or hypothermia
8) Tri-morbidity: co-occurring psychiatric, addiction and chronic medical condition
In Boston where the street level study took place, O’Connell noted 40 percent with the above conditions died prematurely. After Trinidad completes initial research and data collection, (counting homeless, ER research etc) the listed criteria may change to reflect regional concerns. The Vulnerability Index for any given region is generated by survey and helps identify the most vulnerable while taking into account listed risk factors and duration of homelessness. The Vulnerability Index has been used to great success in New York City, Los Angeles’s “Skid Row” and New Orleans, for example.
The second task to complete after defining vulnerability is to meet and match the four essential needs to develop homeless recovery versus homeless existence, with Symons agreeing that the four are: Food. Shelter. Medical Care. Hygiene. These four essential concerns alone are all any community can hope to accomplish. No community is going to solve homelessness. Many communities can progress towards a better life for it’s homeless population. And “supportive housing” provides those four basic needs.
Symons continued stating that “Housing is a right!” and described a “Housing First Model” where the homeless are provided housing first, without regard to being “housing ready” and having a job, for example. Symons spoke of the highly successful “New San Marco Model” of Duluth, MN where supportive housing offers all essential services required to provide medical, mental, hygiene and dietary needs. The “New San Marco Model” much like an outpatient clinic that has permanent residency. Unusual to the “Housing First Model” is a tolerance for alcohol and drug addictions. The homeless housing model is concerned with improvements of symptomology, how much one still drinks or uses, versus a state of abstinence. Progress towards better health is the goal, not unrealistic behavioral changes while integrating into normal society. Also within supportive housing projects are counseling and therapy opportunities, independent living classes, employment and job skills training, money management and benefits acquisition.
Housing is built by private investment with services provided by contracted non- profit. Service providers are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with DOLA the dispensing authority through the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRRP). Colorado’s portion of a appointed $1.5 billion HUD budget is typically $15 million a year, with approximately $6.5 million additional funding 275 housing units a year to date from the Colorado Cannabis Sales Tax Fund for Ending Homelessness. A long laundry list of funding organizations and programs exist to apply, leaving the city relatively fiscally unscathed while providing essential critical social services. The economic impact for the city does not wane in construction and facility operations alone. Policing and emergency response drops dramatically within the homeless and addicted community following a “Housing First Model” as addicts have sources for treatment and shelter other than the emergency room at Mt. San Rafael Regional Hospital and a night in TPD jail.
A long list of players are needed to be responsible for building and operations of new supportive housing for Trinidad. Long term interests involve property ownership, contracted management and service providers, neighborhood zoning concerns, investors etc. Short term interests include developers and architects, attorneys and contractors. All are part of the “Supportive Housing Team” With all participants generated from recruitment by Trinidad city health, housing and governing officials.
City Manager Greg Sund continued with news of beginning discussions regarding a future methadone clinic for Trinidad and the fostering work to proactively address opioid addiction in the city. Along with the proactive nature of new supportive housing for Trinidad, Sund and the city want to “Move people up the list.” by developing supportive housing and a new opioid addiction treatment clinic for the city in possible conjunction with established addiction treatment center Cross Roads Turning Point at 1004 S. Carbon in Trinidad. Sund spoke of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in which a person can only progress forward if previous needs were met. In this case, a house first to provide security, addiction recovery next after housing needs met.
Sund also spoke of defining the homeless and addicted crisis in Trinidad by researching and gathering new, up to date data on the state of homeless and addiction affairs for the city. Sund wants to begin comprehensive training regarding the opioid crisis in Trinidad to include all the parties involved with the proposed methadone clinic — police, healthcare personnel and community program leaders. With Symons adding, “Talking the same language” is essential to developing the comprehensive programs all in attendance at the community center were eagerly offered.
Though only in the initial stages of discussion and planning, housing, health, emergency response and governing officials in Trinidad are moving aggressively to begin to remedy long felt social woes of homelessness and addiction effecting every Trinidadian with equality.