City mulls putting homeless ‘champion’ on payroll

Grand Junction’s 2017 budget is likely to include some dollars dedicated to reining in some of the city’s vagrancy-related problems.

At a workshop Monday night, the Grand Junction City Council said it would like to see a budget with a position for a homeless coordinator or a position that had been dubbed a homeless champion.

The idea is one of several recommendations and goals proposed by the Vagrancy Committee, a group of Grand Junction city officials who are dedicated to finding solutions to curb homelessness in the city.

The Vagrancy Committee estimated the part-time position might cost $26,000 a year with $21,000 for a salary and $5,000 for supplies.

Councilors met to discuss a host of options and recommendations by the Vagrancy Committee, which considers permanent, supportive housing to be their primary recommendation. Costs and a plan to provide some sort of housing will take time to develop, councilors said.

Some of the committee’s recommendations are already being done, at least in part.

The Grand Junction Police Department had been contracting work for homeless camp cleanups. The city lately has halted the practice as the city of Denver is involved in a class action lawsuit after it cleared camps there, Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver said.

Cleaning camps up more regularly, at least twice a month, would decrease the refuse and the costs of cleaning up unsanitary camps.

That suggestion is pegged at $52,000 a year. The city had camps cleaned up about three to four times a year and workers have hauled four tons of refuse from homeless camps, Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said.

“If you let too much time go by, it actually gets worse than it was,” he told councilors.

Another recommendation is working with a model called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design or CPTED.

One example underway is lighting up the breezeways all night along Main Street as a way to discourage people from camping there.

The Downtown Development Authority has undertaken that project, said Allison Blevins, communications and marketing director for the Business Improvement District.

Creating a Traveler’s Aid fund may be something that can be worked into the budget, said City Manager Greg Caton.

The cost is estimated at $3,000 a year. Funds could be used to help people move who find themselves stuck in Grand Junction but want to travel where they have a support system or a chance to enter a detox facility.

Councilors will get a first glance at the 2017 proposed budget in a couple weeks, Caton said.

Barbara Traylor Smith said she wanted to see action and threw out some ideas.

“Maybe we sell Whitman Park and put the money towards something,” she said, suggesting that could be permanent, supportive housing.

Whitman Park just west of the Grand Junction Police Department is a gathering space for mostly vagrants.

Selling the park must pass voter approval, city officials agreed.

“We’ve been kicking ideas around for a while,” she said. “We need someone to take the ball for permanent supportive housing. How can we do some of this?”


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