It's a primary mission of local nonprofit Grand Valley Catholic Outreach to get chronically homeless people off the streets, and the organization has its eye on a property that could significantly aid in the endeavor.
The 45 individual apartments that comprise the Downtown Suites, at First Street and White Avenue, are on the market and Catholic Outreach is making a concerted effort to bid on the real estate.
If the nonprofit is able to secure a deal for the property — which is on the market for $4.7 million — Catholic Outreach would transition the units into affordable housing for men and women who are homeless and have disabilities, both mental and behavioral.
"We think it will help fill a need — maybe not solve homelessness, but perhaps put another ding in the armor of it," said Tony Prinster, Grand Valley Catholic Outreach board chairman, at a Monday workshop of the Grand Junction City Council. "That's our hope, and that's our mission."
Prinster was with Sister Karen Bland, Grand Valley Catholic Outreach executive director, and the pair hoped the council would "open their hands and hearts so that we may open doors for those most vulnerable in our community," according to a letter soliciting financial support from the city.
They were asking City Council members to give $500,000 to the effort, which combined with a $2 million commitment from Colorado's Department of Local Affairs and money Catholic Outreach would contribute, to make an offer on the property. Prinster said the group's offer will end up being less than the $4.7 million asking price, but he hoped it would be enough to forge a deal.
City Council members were on board with the idea and will likely formalize their monetary support as part of their 2019 budget later this month.
"This group of people cannot get housing and they cannot go to a hotel. They cannot go into the shelters at night, and it has to be supervised," Councilor Phyllis Norris said, referring to the people who would live in the apartments if Catholic Outreach can secure a deal. "This is a project that will really help the people that we cannot get to otherwise."
Norris said city councilors recently looked at options including purchasing properties themselves to address a burgeoning homeless population, but the idea has proven to be cost-prohibitive.
"The reason I like it is, sometimes we're accused of moving glacially. These opportunities come along and action needs to be taken quickly," said Councilor Duke Wortmann, expressing his support for the financial assistance.
"The unfortunate fact is, (local homelessness is) not going to stop. It's gotten worse. In my mind, this is a worthwhile project," Wortmann said.
Grand Valley Catholic Outreach — which began nearly 40 years ago as an effort of local Catholic churches, but became a 501(c)(3) organization in the early 2000s and now has a diverse ecumenical board — operates 63 local apartments that house formerly homeless people and families.
Included under the housing umbrella is the 23-unit St. Benedict Place near Third Street and White Avenue and the 40-unit St. Martin Place near Third Street and Pitkin Avenue.
"Residents there are carefully screened, they're monitored, and they're very appreciative, after many of them had been living on the street for many years, to be able to have a place to call their own," Prinster explained to council members.
People placed at the new property would be tightly screened, highly supervised and case-managed, Prinster said.
The units at the Downtown Suites — which formerly was a Value Lodge motel, then rehabbed into an assisted living facility before becoming an apartment complex — are small studios with kitchen utilities like stoves, refrigerators, microwaves and sinks, with private bathrooms. The complex has security as well.
If Catholic Outreach lands the property, current residents would stay until their leases expire.
Bland said that the purchase project idea "was not something we went looking after" but rather "fell into our laps." She said the more the organization considered it, the more they realized "it falls so well into our mission."
She hoped council members would personally consider the circumstances of the local homeless population, which at last count last January tallied 492 people. The actual number is likely far higher than that, advocates say.
"You go to bed at night, and you think about yourself getting warm, and somebody else is sleeping under a bench or something," Bland said. "It makes you think again and again."
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NOTE: A previous version of this story included an incorrect number of units at St. Martin Place.