Sitting in a cramped hotel room doubling as a home, Alvertis Richardson let loose a grin as he showed off papers promising a free apartment.
“It’s great to be off the streets,” he said.
A spry 78-year-old, Richardson dozed in the day and stayed up after dark to keep from freezing to death on Colorado Springs’ cold winter streets.
The routine kept him alive, but now it’s a thing of the past.
Homes for All Veterans, a program within the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Human Services, recently began training volunteers to walk the city’s streets in search of homeless people just like Richardson – veterans. Its goal is to effectively eliminate veteran homelessness by the end of the year – often by first offering hotel rooms, then a more permanent place to live.
If successful, advocates say the push to end veteran homelessness could be the first step in addressing the city’s larger, chronically homeless population.
“It’s really a matter of: Will we as a community organize ourselves, and commit ourselves to addressing this issue?” said Craig Schlattmann, a retired Air Force colonel and Homes for All Veterans’ program director.
The nonprofit began the project this year, modeling it off a similar campaign in New Orleans.
By the end of 2014, New Orleans officials said they were able to house 227 veterans while ensuring that newly homeless veterans could be housed quickly after being contacted by outreach workers.
Homes for All Veterans plans to take a similar approach in Colorado Springs, Schlattmann said.
The program has 15 volunteers, but Phelps says he needs 50 people to reach its goal. The program asks volunteers to do outreach for two hours, two times a month.
Vows to end homelessness are nothing new. Mayor Steve Bach pledged to help house 100 veterans by the end of 2015 and reduce the number of unsheltered veterans to 30.
At Homes for All Veterans’ disposal is a three-year, $3 million grant awarded by the Department of Veterans Affairs that ends in fall 2017. The money will fund direct assistance to veterans (such as money for a bed), along with salaries and office space for the program.
In addition, the grant will be used to create a veterans housing resource center, which will act as a one-stop shop for veterans to seek housing and other services.
Homes for All Veterans is in negotiations to lease a facility for the center, which will include representatives from the VA and other nonprofits, Schlattmann said.