COLORADO SPRINGS, CO, November 23, 2015 – The Independence Center housing study from December 2014 – April 2015 engendered a new community organizing group in Colorado Springs called People’s Access to Homes (PATH), which continues to coalesce while fighting the proposed Sit/Lie Ordinance. Affordable, accessible housing for people with disabilities is a key issue of The Independence Center and Carrie Baatz, Community Organizer at The Independence Center (The IC) has been studying it and organizing around it for nearly a year.
“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.
Baatz undertook 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.
In addition to the formal report, The Independence Center facilitated the emergence of a dedicated group of individuals to have a voice in the discussion and a place at the table to help drive change in the Pikes Peak region. These individuals joined together and created 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. 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 meet 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. The immediate goal of PATH 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. 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 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.
It remains to be seen what will happen with Sit/Lie Ordinance, but The Independence Center is engaging local government, advocating on behalf of people with disabilities. Answering the invitation for the community to join in advocacy, PATH has emerged as an active, engaged force campaigning for more affordable, accessible housing.
About The Independence Center
The Independence Center is a local nonprofit organization that provides traditional and self-directed home health care, independent living, and advocacy services for people with disabilities. These services range from providing peer support, skills classes, and employment assistance to individual and systems advocacy. The IC’s mission is to work with people with disabilities, their families, and the community to create independence so all may thrive.