Filling in the gaps: a group of local organizations determined to end homelessness for good

By Aimee McBroom and Bea H

There is a plan to end homelessness in the Grand Valley by 2020. The Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless has been working on this plan since 2010 and they feel like they’re moving in the right direction but there is still a long way to go.

“We’ve made huge progress, but we still have huge gaps,” said Beverly Lampley, the Director of Development and Communication for Grand Valley Catholic Outreach.

According to Lampley, there are probably 1,000 people living on the streets of Grand Junction right now, and that 75 percent of them likely have more than one physical or mental medical diagnosis. There are 599 people under the age of 18 who are classified as homeless and more than 100 between the ages of 14 and 17 classified as unaccompanied youth.

Despite these numbers, the Coalition believes that it is on its way to completing its goal of ending homelessness in the area.

“I think we’re on track,” Julie Mamo, Executive Director for Grand Valley Peace and Justice said.

The Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless is a group that came together to form the Grand Junction Continuum of Care. Members of the Coalition include Grand Valley Catholic Outreach, St. Mary’s Hospital, Colorado West Mental Health, Karis Foundation, the GJPD Community Resource Unit, Grand Valley Peace and Justice as well as other prominent organizations in the area. Each member of the coalition addresses problems and obstacles the local homeless population faces.

“This is known as a collaborative community,” said Lampley. “We are figuring it out together.”

The Continuum of Care program is an outreach from the department of Housing and Urban Development. According to the HUD Exchange website, the program was established to promote a nationwide campaign to end homelessness. The program provides funding to the groups working toward this goal.

There are many ways that the Coalition is working to reach the end of homelessness.  Housing is the biggest barrier.  According to  Sherry Cole, the Program Coordinator for the Grand Valley Peace and Justice, the lack of affordable housing and a simultaneous need for a living wage are economic problems that prevent people from finding homes and have received national attention in recent years.

There are different subsidized housing units that allow the residents to pay 30% of their income as rent and then the Grand Junction Housing Authority will pay the difference up to $600. Unfortunately, these housing options are not nearly enough to fully take care of the homeless population.

“The truth is, you can’t end homelessness without homes,” said Lampley.

One of the barriers to getting people into housing is addictions. Most subsidized housing and temporary shelters require residents to overcome any addictions to drugs or alcohol before they move in, but in recent years, a movement across the nation has reversed this model and given people housing prior to addressing substance abuse problems.  This model helps the chronically homeless who are not permitted to stay in other shelters because of addictions.

The Housing First concept will be implemented in Grand Junction through the Pathways Village on 29 Road. Cardinal Capital Management Incorporated, the Grand Junction Housing Authority, and Hilltop will manage these homes and will follow a harm reduction policy. Harm reduction allows people to make their own decisions but encourages them to decrease unhealthy behaviors over time.

“The key is, you don’t force people,” Cole said.

The House, which is an outreach of Karis Inc., follows this model of harm reduction and founder John Mok-Lamme believes it is a positive and effective method of helping people.

“Housing first works,” Mok-Lamme said.

Helping people find homes is not the only step the Coalition has taken to end homelessness in the Grand Valley. Another big thing they do is help make sure those who have homes can stay in them.

In 2016, they received a $30,000 grant to provide financial assistance to those who qualify for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. This money is used to prevent eviction and keep utilities running. In 2015, this branch of the coalition helped 1,000 families stay in their homes.

Individuals whose families qualify for this assistance are required to work at least 20 hours each week. If they are unemployed, they are required to spend at least 20 hours a week searching for a job or 20 hours a week volunteering.

Another service that the Coalition strives to offer is medical care. Earlier in the life of the plan to end homelessness, the Coalition partnered with The Samaritan Clinic, which offered free medical care to those in need. Unfortunately, the clinic was unable to maintain enough funds to continue operation and closed at the end of 2014.

Funds are the biggest barrier and challenge toward completing the plan, according to Lampley. “It’s getting harder and harder to find money for these things,” she said.

Despite these challenged with finances, the Coalition continues to work toward filling gaps in meeting needs for the homeless members of the community.  In response to the lack of affordable medical care in the Grand Valley, they developed Homeless Health Outreach, which brings local medical personnel to the Day Center a few times a week.

The gap in medical is only one gap that still needs to be filled and the Coalition will continue to work to open doors, fill gaps in services for those in need and end homelessness in the area for the next several years.

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