Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia attended a Montrose Coalition on Homelessness and Common Ground Montrose collaborative meeting Tuesday to recognize the city with a special distinction — Garcia gave Montrose the governor’s office’s stamp of approval as the first rural community to become a branch of One Congregation — One Family, a statewide initiative combatting homelessness. 

OCOF began in 2006 in Denver, under then-mayor and current Gov. John Hickenlooper. The program has spread to Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Grand Junction, and now moves to its first rural branch in Montrose. Starter programs are also beginning in Glenwood Springs, Greeley, Pueblo and Vail. 

OCOF operates as a component of the Family Senior Homelessness Initiative under the Salvation Army. The program unites community and state resources with congregations and homeless individuals and families. Congregations and organizations are given mentor training and resources, from child care to financial assistance, for six to nine months. 

OCOF isn’t a “handout,” said Richard Godsil, Common Ground Montrose president and executive director; it’s a “hand up.”

Garcia spoke at the event to recognize the success of OCOF in its other state locations, and to praise the work of Montrose’s organizations in bringing it to a rural community. Garcia called the program a “key part” of the state’s progress in working against homelessness and said 87 percent of people who receive OCOF assistance are still in housing after one year, a testament to the program’s lasting success. 

The combination of resources reaches individuals and families from veterans to children. 

“These are all folks we have the ability to help,” Garcia said. 

The next step for Common Ground  and the Montrose Coalition on Homelessness will be scheduling a date for Salvation Army representatives to visit and host a training for all the interested mentors in the area. Godsil said four churches are already onboard with OCOF, and three more are on the fence.  

Having the governor’s office visit and share ideas on implementing OCOF and other homeless aid through state and federal grants and funding opportunities was an excellent opportunity for local organizations, Godsil added. 

“To hear their input on different grants and funding available for veterans and families is very exciting for us,” he said. “Trying to care for the families and the veterans here, we need those resources.”

Establishing OCOF opens channels of communication to the governor’s office, and also allows Denver and other urban areas to see how the program function in a rural environment. 

Garcia said Montrose and Denver might require different solutions, but there are pieces to those solutions that are common to both places. 

“What we do know is that housing and getting people off the streets is important — but neither here nor in Denver will those things work alone,” Garcia said. “You have to have the other supportive services, the counseling, family counseling, job counseling, mentorship and education. Those are things that are critical everywhere, whether it’s in Montrose or in Denver.”

More information on OCOF and Montrose’s homelessness efforts is available at www.commongroundmontrose.com.

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