Montrose struggles with homeless issue
No agency to address growing problem
MONTROSE — The number of homeless people in the Montrose area has doubled since 2006, according to Tim Heavers of the Montrose County Housing Authority. But Montrose County does not have a homeless-service agency, emergency shelter or transitional-housing program.
To brainstorm ways to close the gap between needs and services, last month a large gathering of concerned citizens and represents of various groups — church leaders, law-enforcement officials, mental-health experts and housing officials — filled a meeting room at the Montrose Public Library.
Melanie Hall, executive director of the Montrose Community Foundation, led a discussion focused on finding solutions to aid the growing homeless population in the Montrose area.
Discussion was lively.
“We can meet them at their level right now, but we don’t have the right facilities to help them make the next steps in their lives,” one voice cried out.
Churches in the Montrose area, along with other services, such as a soup kitchen and the local Salvation Army, have been providing for the homeless for years. But due to a tough economic climate, those organizations are asking for more help to treat the rising demand.
“We need to know, what does the population around here look like?” Hall asked.
Hall’s question was answered with a variety of responses from people living in cars and campers or underneath bridges, to a story about a couple camping out in their home that’s currently in foreclosure.
The truth is, as one person said, “It could be anybody.”
Bus ticket to ...
“For years we’ve been sending our problems away, to Durango and Grand Junction,” said local resident Jodi Holland. Jodi and her husband, John, own three motels.
“Junction’s facilities are maxed out. ... We can’t keep sending them there. We need to address the problem locally,” she added.
Montrose Police Chief Tom Chinn disputes the notion that Montrose organizations intentionally send homeless residents to Grand Junction.
“In all the time I’ve been at this department, I have never heard of anybody purposely sending homeless residents to Grand Junction,” he said.
“What we have done in the past is provide people with bus tickets to destinations of their choosing,” Chinn said. “If the bus stops in Grand Junction, Durango or any other place and they get off that bus, that’s something we can’t control.”
One meal a day
Leiani Dunham is the kitchen manager at Christ Kitchen, a nonprofit facility that has been providing meals to homeless residents since September of 2005.
“I started in mid-January and there was about 85,” Dunham said of homeless diners. “Since then, nine months later, it’s increased to about the average of 100 per day,” she said.
Dunham said the facility takes in vast amounts of donated food, but “the biggest expense we have is meat.”
Inside the crowded facility, a chow line is formed with volunteers manning large serving trays filled with baked chicken for sandwiches and baked potatoes, cut in half, and served as a side dish.
They serve one meal a day. Dunham said she wishes they could provide more.
Carolyn Cater, founder of Christ Kitchen, explained that what Montrose needed most is a permanent homeless shelter.
“We don’t have one, and we need to provide a place for these people,” she said.
Outside the facility, two young men approached the front door, wearing old clothes and walking with their heads down.
Wanting not to be identified, they said they come to Christ Kitchen for lunch a couple of times a week, and they know of many young people who are homeless land living in the area.
Some are students of local public schools.
According to survey results compiled by the Montrose County School District RE-1J, many students within the district said they are facing housing emergencies.
176 said they live with another family because of financial hardship.
22 said that they live in a shelter consisting of a safe house or temporary foster care.
Two said that they live in a car, RV or campsite.
Two said they live in a motel or hotel.
‘I want to
live this way’
Down the street from Christ Kitchen, underneath a bridge traversing the Uncompahgre River on West Main Street, there are remnants of people living in old sleeping bags. The river provides a cold draft, which circulates between rows of concrete just a few feet above the water. A stove, a few cards from a deck of 52 and cooking utensils are scattered on the ground.
An old, torn-up medical bill from Montrose Memorial Hospital details a visit from a former homeless man and Navy veteran James Foster.
Foster died a number of years ago and spent many nights under the West Main Bridge, where he kept a cooler for food and slept on an old mattress. Graffiti is everywhere.
“I want to live this way,” one homeless man said, not wishing to be identified. “I don’t have to worry about a job, paying bills, none of that.”
During last month’s meeting, the idea of building new buildings and infrastructure left many scratching their heads, wondering about the validity of such an idea. Other ideas included creating new job opportunities and utilizing a farm dormitory in Olathe as a shelter.
Montrose County owns a vacant dormitory designed to house migrant farm workers south of Olathe. It was shut down and reopened as a temporary homeless shelter. Now it sits empty, for sale.
The Olathe Town Board rejected a proposal for the building to be used as a correctional facility for the 7th Judicial District Community Corrections program.
“You used to not see the homeless because they were at the dormitory and away from town ... but we have a building sitting empty that could work as a shelter,” Heavers said.
Larry Fredericksen, a local volunteer with Christ Kitchen, is now the chairman of the board of a new organization called Haven House.
The organization was formed nearly six weeks ago, the “brainchild,” as Fredericksen said, of Christ Kitchen founder Carolyn Carter.
Fredericksen said the organization is meeting each Wednesday, working to make a new homeless shelter a reality in Montrose. Haven House is making plans to join with Christ Kitchen to design a shelter with a kitchen that can provide more than one meal a day along with other services including beds.
“We want to create a shelter to house families,” he said.
Fredericksen said the facility could draw people from Delta, Montrose and Ouray counties. He said the group is working to secure a 501(c)3 financial status in order to start raising money to acquire a facility.
“How we do that will depend on the support of the community,” he said.