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the denver post B B wednesday, december 28, 2011



“Flashy” can be costly



“I have eight mental disorders, so I use it to talk to my doctors,” said Labarr, who worries that his doctors will have a harder time finding him. His smartphone also keeps him connected with his case managers, therapists and church, and the community college where he is enrolled. He also uses the calendar to keep track of appointments and class schedules. With Labarr homeless, and with his family in Pennsylvania, his phone is his lifeline. The study, conducted by professor Eric Rice of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, showed that 62 percent of homeless youth owned a cellphone, and 51 percent used it to stay connected to friends at home. Thirty-six percent used it to call a potential or current employer; 17 percent to call a case manager; and 41 percent to stay connected to parents. The study, “Cell Phone Use Among Homeless Youth: Potential for New Health Interventions and Research,” was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Because cellphones are nearly ubiquitous among American adolescents, the study said, this technology can give family, friends and providers new ways to keep connected to homeless youth, a population that is highly transient. Unlike adults who are homeless, teenagers have fewer mental-health and substance-abuse problems that can stop them from getting off the streets. Aaron Roth, 19, finds that his cellphone is critical to keeping in touch with places — restaurants and retailers — where he has applied for work. “You don’t want them calling a homeless shelter,” he said, “and if you’re not there when they call, it looks bad already.” But there is a potential downside witnessed by people such as Christina Mijares, who works at the Urban Peak shelter. “The only thing I worry about is the bills racking up,” she said. “If they don’t have steady employment, they


Homeless teens and cellphones Data collected by USC researcher Eric Rice in 2009 of 169 homeless youth in Los Angeles showed: 62 percent of homeless teens had a cellphone 85 percent were using the Internet at least weekly 27 percent got a phone using money earned at a job 20 percent received a phone as a gift 15 percent purchased a phone by panhandling or street performing

should not be allowed to have the higher plans.” While some kids get the lower-budget prepaid monthly plans, others get the latest models and most elaborate plans. “It’s wrong when kids come in with flashy phones,” said Mijares, who worries that getting in over their heads will result in bill collectors and other financial headaches. Still, with prepaid plans, she sees a definite upside. “They can stay connected to resources, like if they’re trying to get a bed for the night or a job interview,” she said. “Sometimes friends and family are able to talk them down and help them not overreact to things.” Rice said smartphones aren’t cheap, “but they are more attainable than a car, jobs or a place to live, and they help them get all of the other things.” Also, he said, even if calling is disabled on a smartphone, the device functions as a Wi-Fi-enabled device, allowing the teens to access free hotspots and continue to maintain connections with family, caseworkers and potential employers. “It’s not a panacea,” Rice said, “but it is a new tool that helps them to make connections and access resources and be consistent in how they do these things.”

Data collected by University of Denver researcher Kimberly Bender in 2008 of 50 homeless youth ages 18-24 in Denver and 50 in Los Angeles showed: 92 percent used technology weekly 41 percent used technology daily 81 percent communicated primarily with friends 62 percent communicated with family 21 percent communicated with employers 4 percent communicated with service providers Rice’s initial data were collected in 2009, but anecdotally he sees cellphone use among homeless youth increasing. His ongoing research suggests that homeless youth who keep up with positive influences in their lives — even at a distance — have a better chance of getting off the streets. “They are doing better,” he said. “They are less likely to engage in prostitution and more likely to look for jobs. They have lower rates of mentalhealth issues and substance abuse. Things just go better if they are actively engaged in the process of connecting, using these devices.” Labarr said his cellphone is “a mood stabilizer” that helps him stay connected with others when he feels angry or sad. And for Daniel, an 18-yearold homeless teen who did not want to give his last name, it’s a way to set up meetings with his case manager and stay in touch with his brother and sister. “My sister is helping me,” he said. “She brought me here and wants to know how I’m doing. Before, I had to ask to use the phone here or ask to borrow from a friend, and sometimes they wouldn’t let me. It was hard to contact her, and she worried.” Colleen O’Connor: 303-954-1083 or

Suspensions are rare



“How can that be due process?” Kuhn asked. A representative for Fort Collins-based Neenan did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The board, which falls under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Regulatory Agencies, opened an inquiry into Howell’s work after a Denver Post report detailed a litany of problems with a Neenan school building in Meeker. According to public documents, Howell worked on at least 19 schools for Neenan from his hiring in December 2007 to his firing last month on the day DORA launched its inquiry. Neenan has declined to identify all the schools Howell worked on as a structural engineer, saying, “We do not put our clients’ names in the newspaper without their explicit permission.” Tuesday’s action requires Howell to stop practicing engineering until a hearing several weeks from now, said DORA program director Angie Kinnaird Linn. She said only once before in her 17 years on the job has the board suspended a license — involving a structural engineer on a collapsed building in the mid-1990s. The board did not accept outside remarks, and neither Howell nor his lawyer appeared at the emergency board meeting, which included a 1-hour, 40minute session that was closed to the public. During the open part of the meeting, board member Dan Donegon, a structural engineer with HCDA Engineering Inc. in Colorado Springs, said a review of the engineering on the Meeker project found “serious

Harlan Gary Howell EDUCATION: Bachelor of science, architectural engineering, University of Colorado. WORK EXPERIENCE: 35 years. Licensed in Colorado; formerly licensed in Missouri and Oklahoma. Hired by the Neenan Co. of Fort Collins in December 2007 as staff structural engineer. NEENAN SCHOOL PROJECTS: Vanguard High School, Colorado Springs; Sterling High School, Sterling; Campbell Elementary School, Sterling; Ayers Elementary School addition, Sterling; Brush Elementary School, Brush; Brush Middle School, Brush; Weld Central Elementary School, Keenesburg; Fort Morgan High School, Fort Morgan; Miami-Yoder High School, Rush; West Grand Elementary School, Kremmling; Fraser Valley Elementary School, Fraser; Granby Elementary School, Granby; Meeker Elementary School, Meeker; Sargent Junior-Senior High School, Monte Vista; Alamosa Elementary School K-2 Campus, Alamosa; Alamosa Elementary School 3-5 Campus, Alamosa; Mapleton Early College and Expeditionary School of the Arts, Thornton; York International School, Thornton. Sources: State of Colorado, the Neenan Co.

issues” that pointed to work “below the standard of practice.” The review by Structural Consultants Inc. found the $18.9 million school had been designed to a seismic category of 1 — typical for a storage shed — instead of the code 3 required for schools. The firm also concluded the building was susceptible to collapse in high winds or an earthquake. “I can’t understand why you’d be using category 1 for a school,” Donegon said. “It just doesn’t happen.” “It raises the question of whether he actually did the calculations or just wasn’t paying attention at all when these were done,” said board member Jeffrey Olson, with Denver’s Fentress Architects. Board member Billy Harris, of the Denver engineering and land-survey firm Harris Kocher Smith, asked whether there was pressing need to act or whether more documentation was needed.

“As far as this licensee is concerned, if we just look at one incident, it may not give us a big enough picture,” he said. “But I don’t want to go on a fishing expedition of everything he’s ever done, either.” Kinnaird Linn noted the board already had requested documents from Howell last month, and she said it was her understanding that he “had the ability to get the documents had he chosen to do so.” Howell did not have a valid license for a period while working on the Meeker project, but Neenan has said it was valid by the time he put his stamp on the designs. Howell also was the engineer of record on the Sargent Junior-Senior High School in the San Luis Valley, which a review found needs repairs because a beam supporting the roof in one area cannot withstand snow loads. Eric Gorski: 303-954-1971 or or


New law is cited in interim bid



The utility will respond to the critics in filings Jan. 5, Mark Stutz, an Xcel spokesman, said in a statement. There is a broad consensus among those opposing the increase — from consumer advocates to big businesses — that Xcel has failed to show that it would be hurt financially by waiting for a full ratecase hearing. There has to be “some demonstration of harm beyond the sheer fact of lagged recovery,” said the Colorado Energy Consumers, a coalition of businesses. “The company’s financial integrity is not remotely at risk.” Xcel said in its rate request that under the 2010 law, a section of the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, a utility had only to show it would be “adversely affected” to get an interim increase and that since this was a new law, there was no precedent. “These statements are incorrect and misleading,” said Francis Shafer, an analyst with the state Office of Consumer Counsel, in a filing. The counsel represents residential and small-business customers. The PUC always has had the power to grant interim rates and has done so — but only in cases of extreme financial need, such as in 1980 when the credit rating for Public Service Co. of Colorado was downgraded, Shafer said. If the commission feels it needs to give Xcel an interim

“The interim increase just isn’t justified. This shouldn’t be put on the backs of ratepayers without a full review.” Steve Merrill, an advocate for Colorado AARP, a senior-citizens organization increase, it should be the minimum amount necessary to give the company its allowed return, Shafer said. The major component of the overall rate request is $52.5 million to cover the cost of absorbing 300 megawatts of generation Xcel had been selling to Black Hills Energy, which serves Pueblo and southeastern Colorado. Xcel let the wholesale power contract lapse and planned to use the power for its customers. But it’s taking on the power generation at a time when it already has excess capacity. Xcel’s two largest customers — Rocky Mountain Steel and Climax Molybdenum Co. — in a joint filing questioned “whether retail customers should bear the full burden of what apparently turned out to be a bad decision.” “Because utilities are monopolies within their certificated service territories, the

Commission’s duty is to protect customers from excessive rates,” the two companies stated. While opposing the interim rate increase, the PUC staff also took issue with the $100 million price tag. Among the items that should be addressed in the full rate case are $16 million for pensions and $23 million in increased property taxes. The staff said the local tax bills are not due until April 2013. The staff said the commission should consider an interim rate increase of no more than $57.1 million. On average, the PUC has awarded about 46 percent of the amount requested in electricity-rate cases, and Xcel is seeking 70 percent of the total rate request in the latest case, the commission staff noted. Karen Hyde, vice president for rates in Xcel’s Colorado subsidiary, said in testimony to the commission that if the final rate increase was less than $100 million, the company would issue credits to ratepayers. A refund in the spring after struggling to pay bills through the winter “does not adequately protect consumers,” AARP argued in its filing. Xcel has one supporter for the interim rate increase: Black Hills Energy. Black Hills said that if the PUC approved the Xcel interim rate request, it too would file for interim rate hikes. Mark Jaffe: 303-954-1912 or

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