New fund to help homeless a good response to a big problem

By Julie Mamo

I recently helped with the cleanup of a homeless person’s camp inside a drainage culvert beneath Riverside Parkway.

What I saw shocked me.

I didn’t get very far. About 20 feet in I had to stop due to the risk involved — very little light, lots of needles, mouse droppings and nests everywhere. (I personally threw out two dead mice!) But In the end, I accomplished what I hoped I would. I learned something. Actually, I learned a few things:

1. It’s not so easy to make decisions about which of a person’s belongings to keep and which not to keep. Deciding what one values is difficult and should really be decided by the owner. Therefore, posting, which is always done before a cleanup, is precious. God forbid this ever happen to any of us, but if it does, use posting time wisely. Remove the things you value before someone else has to, otherwise it is just abandoned stuff and the person given the task of sorting through it will simply see it as junk left behind.

2. Ignorance really is bliss. I knew of the man who camped at this location prior to being there, but after going through his belongings, I felt I knew him personally. The more you dig, the more you find. Some things cannot be unseen. If I thought I was overwhelmed when I arrived, that feeling tripled when I found myself sitting in the middle of “his life” sorting through it.

Incidentally, much of the stuff found in the culverts came out of dumpsters and private trashcans. Take from that what you will, but I will definitely pay closer attention to what I am throwing away and how to properly dispose of things that include my private information. You should too. 

3. Pack it in, pack it out. If you can, do not leave your stuff behind at all. The environmentalist in me is screaming, “You are littering and that is not nice!” I understand that if you do not have a home and you are unable or in some cases unwilling to stay in one of the local shelters, then you may choose to camp. If so, think long and hard about where you are camping. Are you putting yourself or the community in danger? Are you out in the open and easily spotted from a nearby trail? Are you too close to a waterway? A drainage culvert is not a safe place to build a home because spring is right around the corner. Life and dignity of the human person is one of my organization’s guiding principles. Floods threaten life. This man put himself in grave danger. Toxins stored in the culverts threatened our waterways, thus threatening people in this community and downstream. This is a real concern.

The Sentinel’s recent story “Home, street home,” which chronicled the cleanup, also touched on the Traveler’s Aid Fund. I agree with Officer Bovee that I would rather see money spent on “bus tickets rather than cleaning camps.” However, I feel his quote was not given much context. Officer Bovee was in no way suggesting we put people on buses and ship them off to other communities against their will as a solution to homelessness in the Grand Valley. Rather, he was suggesting a new option that might appeal to some of our community’s homeless.

A number of local agencies have assisted individuals and families who are homeless or stranded by getting them to destinations where they can move forward, but funding for this has been hit or miss. Now the Grand Junction Police Department is helping out via their new Traveler’s Aid Fund, which is overseen by the Community Resource Unit and GJPD watch commanders, but powered by community support.

Local agencies and GJPD agree sending an individual or family to another community to be homeless there is not really helping.  Therefore, one of the qualifying rules of the program is that there has to be something or someone at the destination greeting the traveler — welcoming family, an employment opportunity (not a help wanted ad or an interview but a confirmed job offer), or a substance abuse treatment program. We also agree travel has to be the individual’s choice.

Through TAF and other travel funds, a person wanting to travel must handle their legal issues before transport and it has often happened that members of the CRU have been able to help with some legal issues, particularly in the case of those entering treatment programs.

Getting legal issues out of the way allows individuals to start over, to rebuild their lives without having to worry about past legal issues catching up to them and derailing them from the progress they have made. Breaking an addiction often means breaking away from toxic relationships, often close family or friends, or a dealer.  For some, treatment, new friends and a fresh start in a new community is what brings about life change.

The new Traveler’s Aid Fund can offer some a chance for stability and self-sufficiency in another community. Why should someone continue being stranded and homeless in Grand Junction when they have opportunity elsewhere? I believe in the Traveler’s Aid Fund. Contact Hilltop for more information on how you can donate.

Julie Mamo is the director of Grand Valley Peace & Justice.


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