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Five Minutes with Holly LeMasurier

Fighting homelessness with facts and figures.

To solve a problem as multilayered as homelessness, you need to know why it’s happening. As director of the think tank Homeward 2020, she’s looking at the problem from a meta, systems level—crunching data. By 2020, her goal is to make recommendations for how Fort Collins can better care for the people on our streets, who often fall through the cracks.

It seems like there are more homeless people here now than ever before. True?

It is true. And it’s true throughout the U.S. Increasingly, we see a lot more aged folks in the population than before.

Why?

Many of our traditional safety nets are collapsing and breaking, so we are seeing a lot of new homelessness in people that we wouldn’t have traditionally seen. The number-one reason is housing affordability.

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Today we have 380 people experiencing long-term homelessness. We’re really focused on what we’re missing. How are people in long-term homelessness not connecting with the right services and resources?

Common misconceptions about the folks with the signs?

That they are criminals, a threat to community and safety. That is literally not true. The majority of criminals and people that will ever threaten you are housed.

Is giving $10 to the guy on the corner the best solution?

We tend to prefer that people give to the agencies. We have outreach people out there to tell that guy on the corner where to go to get different resources, better resources. Give to places like The Homeward Alliance, The Murphy Center.

What keeps you up at night?

There have been four recent deaths of folks waiting for housing. I stay awake frustrated by how we choose priorities in a community where we are so engaged and passionate and creative and innovative. That there seems to be an inability to provide the same high-skilled level of focus toward homelessness that we do toward open space and recreation and a water park and broadband. These are people who need our support, they need us to walk alongside them and not see them as these strange, undeserving others.

What gives you hope?

I think the entire nation and especially in Fort Collins is in this very synergistic moment. We’re all realizing the system is broken, and together, locally, we have to find ways to repair it or create new systems. Fort Collins has more potential than anywhere I’ve ever been to do that.

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