Helping the homeless

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, center, meets Friday with community leaders and others who work with the homeless population at Grand Valley Catholic Outreach, 245 S. First St. Behind him, from left, are Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts, state Director of Community Partnerships Karla Maraccini and Grand Junction police officer and former Homeless Outreach Team member Cindy Cohn.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia toured housing for veterans Friday, meeting and helping to feed homeless people in the Grand Valley and bolstering the network of organizations that offer a broad range of services.

Garcia toured St. Martin’s Place, which provides housing for 15 veterans who would otherwise be homeless, and met with volunteers and others at Grand Valley Catholic Outreach, 245 S. First St., to get a sense of the system.

“I had no idea you guys were so together over here,” Garcia said as he sat with veteran, social-services and local government organizations during a visit.

Mary Sonneborn, 59, said the emphasis on finding housing for veterans paid off for her.

Now a resident of St. Martin’s Place, Sonneborn is among 140 Grand Valley veterans who receive housing vouchers through the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Lisa Strauss, who coordinates the program for homeless veterans.

For Sonneborn, the network of services is the difference between having a place of her own and being dependent on friends for temporary shelter.

“I was couch-surfing” before she landed a unit of her own at St. Martin’s, said Sonneborn, who served in the U.S. Army from 1973 to 1979.

A regular participant in activities involving veterans, Sonneborn said she perceives some improvement in the condition of many.

“I’d say it’s improving a lot,” she said. “It seems like there is a less prevalence of homeless-looking vets.”

The housing-voucher program is a product of the cooperation of the VA, Homeward Bound of the Grand Valley and the Grand Junction Housing Authority.

Veterans aren’t the only people served by the system, said Mollie Woodard, operations coordinator for Homeward Bound.

Given the Grand Valley’s continuing high unemployment and lagging economy, “We still have people who are losing their homes,” Woodard said.

To one extent or another, many of those people are helped by the social-services network that provides shelter, food and other services intended to help the homeless regain their footing.

In recent years, Grand Junction has gained a statewide reputation for its cooperative approach among agencies to common issues, which Garcia said other places are only beginning to replicate.

Homelessness “so often goes unaddressed in other communities,” Garcia said. “That’s clearly not the case here. I’m really very impressed.”


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