COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Colorado Springs will soon have a first-of-its-kind permanent supportive housing complex for youth previously experiencing homelessness.
Colorado Springs City Council greenlighted The Launchpad, a 50-unit affordable apartment complex for at-risk and homeless young adults, after eight hours of discussion at a Tuesday hearing, in which council members acted as jurors in a quasi-judicial hearing.
Council members heard presentations from city staff as well as The Place, the city’s nonprofit serving unhoused and at-risk youth, which will manage The Launchpad. Council also heard from an appellant who is opposed to The Launchpad.
Six of the city’s nine council members voted to deny the appeal, thereby ensuring the project will move forward. Three council members voted to halt the project.
Those living in The Launchpad must be at least 18 years old; most will be younger than 25. Tenants will sign a year-long lease and live alongside 24/7 security and support in the building. Though lease renewal is an option, the ultimate goal is for residents to obtain stable employment and housing.
“You need a credit score to get your own apartment. You need to learn what to look for in a lease,” said Shawna Kemppainen, CEO of The Place. “Those are the things we hope to teach at The Launchpad.”
Kemppainen said a housing-first approach is the best way to bring someone out of homelessness, as employment and mental health stability are often easier to access if a person is housed.
“Everyone needs safe and stable housing in order to fulfill their potential,” Kemppainen said. “The young people we work with need to have the opportunities to bring their gifts to this whole city.”
The appellants also raised concern about homeless youth bringing issues to the area, referring to them as “unsavory characters,” in their written report.
“Do we look like unsavory characters to you?” one child receiving services at The Place asked during a public comment portion of the meeting. “My friends are a lot of things. Those things include compassionate, courageous, smart, funny and valuable. Nowhere on that list is unsavory.”
Ruth Washborn Cooperative Nursery School, located next to The Launchpad site, also wrote a written letter of support, with several parents testifying in front of City Council.
“We know that other issues can’t be addressed until housing is stable,” said Kelly Perry, a parent with two children at the school. “No one is immune from housing instability. For all we know, there is a Ruth Washborn graduate out there who needs that kind of support right now."
The Launchpad will be located near the intersection of West Uintah and North 19th Streets, on the west side of the city. Several grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses surround the area, which Kemppainen said could provide jobs for those living at The Launchpad and needing work experience.
“This is the best location for future residents,” said Lisa Sorenson, development director with Cohen-Esrey Development Group, the developer working on The Launchpad. “It is zoned correctly, it’s a walkable community, our residents will be able to engage with local businesses.”
Lisa Sorenson, development director with Cohen-Esrey Development Group, the developer working on The Launchpad, stands next to Shawna Kemppainen.
Appellants against the project said its density wouldn’t fit the character of the surrounding neighborhood and pointed to concerns about geological hazards in the soil beneath the building. Scott Hiller, an appellant who is the chief of geosciences for a national engineering firm, said he felt a report prepared by CTL Thompson, an engineering consultant for the developer, was not thorough enough and did not accurately reflect the potential for landslides beneath the property.
"This is the reality of this site. These are mitigating circumstances," Hiller said. "Sometimes the best way to mitigate a landslide is to avoid it. That is, don’t build here."
Three council members — Lynette Crow-Iverson, Dave Donelson and Mike O'Malley — voted for a motion to delay the project while they asked the state for further geological review. That motion was denied. Other council members felt the additional review would be an unnecessary roadblock for an urgent project.
“I keep noticing throughout our city, that we put all this bureaucracy in the way, and it creates a huge expense to those trying to create progress,” said Council Member Dave Leinweber. “If we set this precedent, we’re not finding a way to achieve our goal of affordable housing if we keep putting up all of these roadblocks.”
City engineers said CTL Thompson’s report on geological safety was adequate. City staff vocalized their support for the project.
“It meets the characteristics that we would want to see for new development in an area that’s transitioning from an established neighborhood to a changing neighborhood,” said William Gray, a city planner.
But those against the project claimed the area is struggling with crime, homelessness and drug usage, which they said could negatively influence youth in The Launchpad.
“The drug and crime in the neighborhood is serious and not a good situation for at-risk youth,” said Tracy Bradford, a Colorado Springs resident who presented on behalf of the appellants. “This building would also stick out like a sore thumb in this location. The design and height is inappropriate.”
Kemppainen said youth living in the complex will have spent at least a year on the street, and being surrounded by support from The Place will provide positive interactions.
“I promise you that The Launchpad will be much safer than where they’re coming from,” Kemppainen said. “The young adults who live there want to be in a community because they don’t want to be the person who’s living on the street.”
Kemppainen emphasized that forcing youth to participate in therapy and programming is counterproductive. Instead, she said providing stable housing and options for constant support will help Launchpad residents grow into stable adults once they leave the property.
“In so many cases, the young people we’re working with have felt thrown away by previous adults,” Kemppainen said. “One of the most important things we do is we’re always here. We do not give up.”
The Place hopes to break ground in the fall and start housing tenants in 2024.
Alison Berg is a reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.