Carrie Baatz speaking at a City Counil meeting on Nov. 10, 2015

Carrie Baatz speaking at a City Counil meeting on Nov. 10, 2015

“A home is that bedrock of your existence, where you rest each day at the end of the day, where you recover from illnesses, where you retreat and spend time with those close to you,” Carrie Baatz, Community Organizer at The Independence Center (The IC) says as she addresses her comments to state legislators at a recent legislative briefing on disability issues.

Baatz understands the deeper needs that having a home meet, because from December 2014 – April 2015, Baatz began undertaking the issue of housing from the community organizing office of The IC. Facilitating focus groups with other organizations such as Tessa, Springs Rescue Mission and Women’s Resource Agency; interviews and community forums, Baatz developed a formal report called Affordable and Accessible Housing Needs and Barriers: Community Voices in the Pikes Peak Region, which can be found online at http://bit.ly/theic2015housingreport.

Incentives for participating in focus groups were deliberately not offered, so as to only involve participation from particularly concerned and motivated people. In addition to the formal report, The Independence Center facilitated the emergence of a dedicated group of individuals who clearly wanted a voice in the discussion and a place at the table to help drive change in the Pikes Peak region. These individuals joined together to create a community organizing group with the name People’s Access to Homes (PATH). Many of these people have personal, powerful stories of barriers to accessible, affordable housing. Many have been influenced by such stories.

Baatz says, “Being a part of this process at The Independence Center out of which PATH emerged has been life changing for me.” As for the group members, who essentially have chosen themselves, she tells, “I look up to them. They are all so articulate and talented and self-aware.”

Perhaps a mark of a true community movement, most PATH members happen not to be consumers of The Independence Center, but come from elsewhere in the community. PATH is still coalescing as a force, working on finding its common goal and long term vision. Broadly, this includes creating more opportunities for housing that meets people’s needs. The idea that everyone has a right to a space they call home is what motivates the members of PATH.

PATH sees housing not as a problem, but through a positive lens: as a long term solution to many problems, one of which is the city’s homelessness problem. While focused on creating long term solutions, PATH’s gauges its success by short term goals.

Their immediate goal is to see the Colorado Springs Sit/Lie City Ordinance fail. PATH is opposing this ordinance because it unfairly targets people who are homeless, and it would distract resources and energy from better solutions (namely, developing affordable and accessible housing). Making sitting illegal in certain places would negatively impact people with disabilities, and in the current draft, a person would have to provide “confirmation” of a medical disability as an affirmative defense.

During recent City Council meetings, various members of PATH showed up. They signed in before the meeting to receive a three-minute podium time. They spoke out from personal and community experience. Michael Hazard (PATH member with a background in law) shared on November 11, 2015 about the discrimination against the homeless in the Sit/Lie Ordinance and asked City Council to postpone the vote until a suitable alternative to Sit/Lie can be found. Kellee O’Brian (PATH member) spoke about her experience of being homeless. Baatz spoke clearly and crisply about the shortage of over 20,000 units in Colorado Springs and offered solutions such as requesting the City Council to look at the Housing Trust Fund Project.

Housing affects those with disability. While everyone needs a home base, a place to come home to, a place to be well and a place to recover from illnesses, people with disabilities need that home in an accessible, affordable package.

The Independence Center is engaging local government in advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities and inviting the community to join them. Through the IC’s community influence and leadership, PATH has become an active, engaged force advocating for better housing options for people with disabilities. It remains to be seen what will happen with Sit/Lie Ordinance, but PATH has only just begun its work in Colorado Springs.