Solving vagrancy takes teamwork

HomewardBound of the Grand Valley is the local community homeless shelter. We are the only year-round shelter between Salt Lake City and Denver serving hundreds of people. The vast majority of our clients are members of our community — families, women, men, veterans and working people — all facing difficult situations. The shelter has proven we can help provide them with opportunities and a way out of homelessness.

As an organization, we don’t dispute that there is a difference between the “homeless” population and “vagrants.” However, a visitor downtown may have a difficult time making the distinction.

HomewardBound’s purpose is to serve the homeless, those community members who may have lost their job, had an illness, faced insurmountable medical bills, are victims of domestic violence, suffer with mental and physical health issues, or made bad decisions that have left them in one of the most vulnerable positions in our society.

Homelessness is often one unfortunate event away. In fact, according to the Center for Financial Security, a third of Americans, (including one-third of us here in the Grand Valley) are one paycheck loss away from homelessness. Fortunately for many of us, we have family and friends to help us through tough times. But what if you don’t have a personal safety net? Every story is different, but most of the people who come through our doors simply need a hand up, a hot meal and consultation with our staff.

An opportunity, a second chance is what we provide at HomewardBound and our statistics show that it works. The average length of stay at the shelter is only 42 days, which is impressive, from homeless to housed in just over a month. All of which saves our community, public and private sectors, countless dollars annually.

In addition to our programming at the shelter, plans are underway to complete fundraising efforts necessary to build a three-story Family Center which is slated to break ground by the end of summer this year. The new facility will add additional capacity for families, women and children, and allow the current shelter to address some of the more visceral issues of homelessness and vagrancy through programing that creates space for the most at-risk population, including those with substance abuse issues and recent hospital discharges. (Currently HomewardBound is a sober shelter that does not accept community members that are intoxicated, under the influence or are registered sex offenders). This initiative will aide in addressing some of the issues highlighted in the Sentinel editorial, and will improve economic vitality in metropolitan Grand Junction.

However, despite the tireless efforts of HomewardBound, and other allied homeless serving organizations highlighted in the recent Sentinel editorial, we cannot solve the homeless/vagrancy issue by ourselves. HomewardBound must be part of the larger effort that includes stakeholders and opinion leaders outside of “homeless” organizations who will seek actions to address this long standing issue that has had a detrimental effect on our community. To be clear, the vagrancy issue isn’t just a homelessness issue, or a law enforcement one. It’s a city and county planning issue, a physical and mental health issue, an issue to be considered in economic development, an issue of traffic and infrastructure design, an issue for our school boards, and our local, state, and federal elected officials. Downtown should be of concern to the entire community, and its future should be influenced by diverse perspectives with one goal: to make our community as safe, compassionate, inviting and economically vibrant place to live.

HomewardBound calls on our community leaders to continue addressing and researching the homeless and vagrancy issues raised by the Downtown Development Authority, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and others and to join us in finding innovative, common-sense solutions to this critical problem. We look forward to being part of the solution and part of the vision for improving downtown and our community.

Jade Joyce, the excutive director of Homeward Bound of the Grand Valley, executive staff and the board of directors collaborated on this commentary.


COMMENTS

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As a volunteer with organizations serving people living in both “vagrant” and “homeless” camps, I agree with the systemic view reflected here and HomewardBound’s desire to extend shelter to the more at-risk people.

Enforcement should focus on behavior that is detrimental to the community. But in our judgments, be cautious when applying labels and terms like “lifestyle” to the people we see on street corners. They may not have have made their apparent choice from among a range of good options, and their way out of their situation may need a lot more than 42 days.

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