Demand up for overflow homeless shelters
More volunteers are needed for an overflow winter shelter program for homeless people.
In three years, the program has expanded from three to 17 churches, which serve as overflow shelters in two-week rotations.
Three years ago, only one church and one set of volunteers were needed at one time for the overflow of homeless people from the Homeward Bound shelter at 2853 North Ave.
This year, 36 men are going to two separate churches at a time for a warm night’s stay and often a hearty breakfast.
“To me, it’s getting scary,” said Karen Sjoberg, executive director of Grand Valley Peace and Justice, the nonprofit organization spearheading the overflow program. “Before, hardly anybody knew a person who was homeless. It was a ‘them’ thing. Now it’s an ‘us’ thing.”
Homeward Bound is filling up with more families, which leaves less space for single men and women.
Single men often would rather spend nights at the churches, where it can be quieter, Sjoberg said.
It wasn’t always that way. Some homeless men were wary of church members, thinking they would try to recruit or proselytize to them. But attitudes have changed among church-going folks about the homeless.
“People in the program are getting to know each other and realized that homeless people are just residents of Grand Junction that have fallen on hard times,” Sjoberg said. “There used to be fear, but now there’s understanding. It’s built trust and understanding on both ends.”
Volunteers drive men from Homeward Bound to churches for the night and take them back in the mornings.
Volunteers need not belong to a church participating in the program, or any church. They take shifts staying up through the night and fix breakfast for the men and, sometimes, sack lunches. The extent of services varies by churches, Sjoberg said.
The program started Oct. 24 this year, about a month earlier than past years, largely because of demand and because homeless men were beginning to ask when shelters would start up again for the winter.
Thanks to a grant, the overflow shelter program now is being run with the help of a paid staff member, Sherry Cole.
The issue of homelessness in the Grand Valley has been getting more attention recently as groups have embarked on a 10-year plan to end it. In the meantime, homelessness appears to be on the rise with the sputtering economy and a multitude of service cutbacks.
“People are looking at foreclosure. There are more people living along the river. It’s becoming a subculture,” Sjoberg said. “To me, it’s scary. But we’re also hopeful. It’s not up to somebody else to fix it. It’s up to us.”