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Pushing Haven option, Council mulls more restrictions on homeless residents

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

55-year-old homeless resident Kenneth Smith at Prospects Courtyard.

Kenneth Smith and I sit at a table in the center of Prospects Courtyard, the front doorstep to downtown’s sprawling Haven for Hope homeless services campus, as the late-afternoon sun starts to fall and the cold sets in. With the faint smell of alcohol on his breath, he ruminates quietly of the coming nightfall – violence, drugs, danger, another night of just trying to survive. “Shit’s gonna break loose,” he says. “It’s gonna break loose in here real soon.”

A messy divorce and an on-the-job injury pushed Smith to the streets over a year ago, he says. At 55, he speaks tirelessly of wanting work: construction, work as a garbage man, bussing tables, anything. A punishing job market and homelessness, complete with its physical and mental scars, have kept him in and out of Prospects and on the streets, sometimes begging downtown’s workers, tourists, and residents for food and cash, anything they can spare. Tears well up in Smith’s eyes as he lifts up his right sweatshirt sleeve to sport a poorly healing gash. Attacked and stabbed by a band of men two weeks back, he says, he lost his backpack and nearly all of his belongings, along with the $109 he’d managed to save up. He shakes his head recounting the day-to-day, saying he’s exhausted and sometimes contemplates hurting himself. Outreach workers at the Courtyard say that like many living on the streets, Smith shows signs of mental illness, possibly schizophrenia.

“I start hearing voices. I feel like people are talking to me, even though I’m hiding under my covers,” he says. “It feels like Satan’s doing this.”

Over the past five years, the city has rolled out a new model for dealing with individuals like Kenneth Smith. Since paving the way for Haven for Hope’s construction in 2007, the city has funneled millions to the 37-acre one-stop-shop shelter, treatment center, and job-services campus, which opened in the spring of 2010 to give the city’s homeless a clear road to recovery, all the while promising to clear the inner-city streets of solicitation from the destitute. With city funding of Haven topping $6.5 million this fiscal year, Prospects Courtyard, run by the Center for Healthcare Services, is now set to embark on an 80-bed mental health unit for male courtyard residents to hit one of the root causes of chronic homelessness, mental illness, housing men for three to four months who volunteer for intensive psychiatric care and substance abuse treatment. Center officials say nearly 3 out of 4 of those who sleep at Prospects have some type of mental illness. Plans are now in the works to build an outpatient mental health clinic in the courtyard for the rest who come to Prospects looking for help.

“We could just keep growing [Prospects Courtyard] but that doesn’t solve the problem,” said Allan Cross, director of the Center’s homeless transitional services. “How do we engage them and get them into treatment? Well, there are barriers to that. This helps remove those barriers.”

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