Notice of homeless who die

CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON/The Daily Sentinel—Robin Trump, who works with homeless veterans at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, ties ribbons onto a tree in Hawthorne Park on Sunday in remembrance of the people who died in Grand Junction this past year while homeless. Homeless advocates meet at this tree this time each year for the service.

There was “Happy,” Deeder, “Lumber” and “Hawk.”

If you spend any time in Grand Junction you would have seen these folks. They represent several of the nine homeless individuals who died this year.

Because many homeless people don’t have memorial services after they die, about a dozen folks, mostly from the homeless aid agencies, came out Sunday to pay tribute to their lives.

“It’s a great grieving process,” said Mollie Woodard, operations manager at Homeward Bound, the Grand Valley’s homeless shelter. “When homeless people pass away there’s a lack of ability to say goodbye. There have been a few times in the last few years when we have no family to release (the deceased) to.”

About nine years ago, advocates for the homeless planted a tree on the west edge of Hawthorne Park. Every year during the memorial ceremony, participants tie one white ribbon to the tree’s branches — each ribbon representing another life lost.

Grand Junction had a heartbreaking 23 homeless deaths in 2009 and 16 homeless deaths the year before, in part because people froze to death sleeping outside in frigid temperatures.

Thanks to an emergency shelter program run by Grand Valley Peace & Justice and Homeward Bound, the numbers of deaths by exposure have reduced.

During the winter months when the shelter tops capacity, homeless men are bused to area churches to spend the night. 

Homeward Bound is working on plans to better house its homeless clients. Some 130 to 140 people stay there each night, which makes for tight quarters, according to the shelter’s executive director AJ Johnson.

Homeward Bound announced plans in July to purchase the former Grand Valley Power building, 2727 Grand Ave., but the sale did not go through because the building was not a good fit as a shelter, Johnson said.

He said the organization may work to move its homeless family population to a separate location so it can free up space at Homeward Bound for single men and single women. In the meantime, the agency is working on securing funds before it moves forward, he said.


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