Homeless: ticket to ride?

Purchasing bus tickets for them out of town and designating places for the homeless to live were two possibilities the Grand Junction City Council discussed Saturday as ways to handle chronic homelessness in the city.

The city already buys bus tickets on a case-by-case basis for some homeless individuals, often if they’re new to municipal court and want to leave Grand Junction, City Attorney John Shaver told the council during its retreat Saturday at Grand Junction Regional Airport. Shaver said some chronically homeless people are offered a bus ticket as a condition of their sentence in lieu of a stay in the crowded Mesa County Jail.

“We had a man who wanted to leave but couldn’t get on a bus because of his dog and his bike,” Shaver said. “We figured out a way to ship him and his dog and his bicycle to where he wants to be.”

Shaver commented on the topic after City Council member Tom Kenyon, who is on the council’s homelessness subcommittee, said he had heard the city offers this service on a limited basis.

“Maybe we need to increase the budget for that,” he said.

Council member Gregg Palmer said he also supports ticket purchases.

“I think if some want to go home, we should provide that,” he said.

Mayor Teresa Coons said some research into the matter likely will show other cities are doing the same thing and buying bus tickets to Grand Junction.

“We’d just be doing to other communities what they do to us,” she said.

If the city doesn’t buy tickets for transients, City Council member Sam Susuras said, Grand Junction “will have them all.”

Kenyon said suggestions he has heard for housing those who want to stay include a tent city to a 120-unit apartment building, which he said the city cannot afford.

“There needs to be a place for people to be. This camping on city property is baloney,” Kenyon said.

Palmer suggested having a designated area for chronically homeless.

“Not everyone’s going to want to leave. We’re going to have to direct them to a place with at least some amenities,” he said.

Just as the Meth Task Force invested money in working to eradicate meth issues, City Council member Bruce Hill said, it likely will take some “hard cash” to work on this issue. Hill said it’s not about who has a fancy house or no house. It’s about bad behavior.

“It’s having a place (for chronically homeless to be), and if they break the law, we won’t tolerate it anymore,” Hill said. “We need to take our parks back. I don’t want to use that park, but if we use it, they won’t want to use it.”

Susuras said he has heard from constituents who won’t go to parks downtown or the Mesa County Public Library because of homeless people.

Police Chief John Camper, who also was at the meeting, said the city has “essentially handed over two parks to transients.”

Susuras said if an area with amenities is designated for chronically homeless people, they should have to do community service to live there, but he wasn’t sure the idea would work.

“Can we confine these people to a site such as Gregg has suggested?” Susuras asked Shaver.

As long as there’s a designated place other than parks or other public areas for certain people to be, the answer is yes, Shaver said.

“If they refuse to go, that’s when we arrest them,” Shaver said.


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