Rescue mission

GUEST COLUMN: Springs Rescue Mission offers hope to the homeless | Opinion

There are too many people who believe, like Ken Thompson in his March 24 letter to the editor, that homelessness is a choice. A way to discharge the responsibilities of citizenship in favor of a life on the streets and to take advantage of free alms.

Yes, it is true that some of the homeless could be employed. But this is not the case for the majority. The majority suffer from serious addiction, serious mental illness and major trauma. Few have the skills to get a job, let alone keep one. And they have nowhere to go to get the help they need. But, thanks to the Springs Rescue Mission, there is hope.

And, if Ken or others like him spent half an hour of their time with me volunteering at SRM, I think they would have their eyes opened to how lucky Colorado Springs is to have SRM.

A little history …

In the 1960s, Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson introduced policies and programs aimed at reforming mental health care and ending poverty. Johnson coined a term for it – The Great Society. The result was that most of the country’s psychiatric hospitals were closed and the mentally ill were sent back to their communities for treatment. Well, communities have failed miserably. Leaving the mentally ill with no place to go but the streets. Add to that the severe PTSD and drug addiction of the Vietnam War and you have a whole new group joining the already ignored people living on the streets. Street life is reproduced through family generations. Drug use and mental illnesses are becoming commonplace. And there is nowhere to go for help. Local hospitals will admit you, but 72 hours later you’re back on the streets.

Colorado has only two public psychiatric hospitals – Fort Logan in Denver and the public hospital in Pueblo. A combined total of approximately 650 beds. Not even close to meeting Colorado’s needs.

What about state-run residential addiction programs? Maybe two. I don’t even know if there are that many. The others require payment in cash, with some accepting certain insurance, but still requiring an initial cash down payment.

The drugs of today are not like the drugs of our youth. They are much stronger and much more addictive. They do more than just deliver a “high”. They alter the wiring in the brain.

We recently lost our 28 year old son to an addiction to Oxycontin formed after a skiing accident and several surgeries. For three years we supported him in rehab after rehab, among the best. Sam couldn’t get out of the disease. In desperation, he committed suicide.

The damaged brain wiring is real and the disease takes everything that was good about that person. If our son couldn’t recover — how could someone living on the street do it?

Springs’ rescue mission doesn’t claim to be the answer. But it offers hope.

SRM has a 6-month residential recovery program for men, an intensive four-month outpatient program for men and women, regular 12-step meetings, and an off-campus sober house. Right there is a big deal.

For those looking for a job, SRM can help. And for those unable to maintain employment, SRM offers life skills courses and vocational training courses helping up to 130 participants each day.

For those in need of housing, SRM Case Managers help guests apply for housing assistance programs. And newly employed guests are allowed to stay at SRM, for a proportional fee, until they have enough money saved up to relocate.

SRM partners with more than a dozen agencies offering free dental, medical and therapeutic care. They regularly come to campus and meet guests. On-campus Bible studies and a chaplain offer spiritual guidance. A “work engagement” program allows guests to work on campus managing showers and laundry services, campus cleaning, cooking, a myriad of jobs that help keep the campus running – creating a sense of value in guests and instilling in them that they have something to contribute. Something many of them haven’t felt in a long time, if ever.

And SRM has developed a culinary program for customers interested in the food industry. An outgrowth of this program are two commercial ventures. Award-winning Mission Catering and Samaritan Coffee at 225. Both offer on-the-job training for men in the 6-month residential addiction recovery program.

Thanks to generous contributions from the community, one of SRM’s recent accomplishments has been to fence off its campus and create a single point of entry. Thus ensuring a safer and more secure campus and the necessary protection for women fleeing human trafficking and domestic violence. And, although SRM is considered a low barrier, weapons, drugs, and alcohol are not permitted to be brought onto campus. An admissions interview and campus security ensure that the rules are understood, followed and civil behavior is expected. If a guest breaks the rules, they are escorted off campus. He can’t come back, sometimes for weeks. And when he does, he must attend a mandatory back-to-school meeting.

There’s so much more happening at the Springs Rescue Mission, all aimed at helping clients become contributing members of our community. Until society provides solid solutions, we will have homeless people. SRM is doing everything to get them off our streets and give them hope that real transformation is possible.

Anne Beach has been a resident of Colorado Springs for 35 years. She is a former business owner and longtime volunteer with Springs Rescue Mission.