With their best shot having missed the target when city officials turned down a rezoning request, those hoping for a homeless resource facility are now eyeing “long shots.”
The Montrose Lighthouse, Shepherd’s Hand, and others had put money down on 931 N. Park Ave., in hopes of opening the building there for food and services to help homeless individuals — and, eventually, an overnight shelter.
The plan met with pushback from nearby residents, who said although they were not opposed to helping the homeless, the proposed location was not appropriate. Last week, Montrose City Council voted no on the rezoning required to offer such services there.
“We think we’ve surveyed every possible alternate location, although there are a few far-out ideas,” said Chris Hauck of the Montrose Lighthouse board. “The property we sought the zoning change for was the best we ever came up with at this point.”
The Lighthouse is able to offer emergency, overnight shelter during winter months at the former Brown Center. It is subleasing the city-owned property, which in the summertime is leased to house farmworkers. The charity has two winters left on the lease.
The building is equipped with a kitchen and sleeping quarters, but is tucked away by the animal shelter north of the town center, and bringing people there for the night requires costly transportation services.
“If it were closer to town, it would be a potential (place). The transportation out there would be a huge expense,” Hauck said.
Lighthouse’s board will meet this coming week to go over other possibilities, he said.
Garey Martinez, who operates Shepherd’s Hand, and who also supported the North Park proposal, agreed with Hauck that the next steps are long shots. He said he is meeting with other entities about what could possibly be done.
The two winters left at the Brown Center location don’t really give advocates much time to line up an ongoing housing option and meal site, he said.
“We are working very aggressively to resolving both situations,” Martinez said.
“We’ve got a solid board with a lot of experience. We know the population pretty well. We know how to deal with them, what their needs are,” Hauck said.
The idea to bring together under one roof several organizations that can assist homeless individuals or hook them up with resources remains, Martinez added.
“That’s still our vision.”
The zoning denial was a blow to backers, particularly because it comes on the heels of other nonprofits that assist homeless and low-income people also being squeezed out.
Christ’s Kitchen, which for nearly 15 years has provided a hot lunch to those in need, is losing its meal site, which it had rented month-to-month. The building’s owners decided to stop renting to the kitchen for business reasons, kitchen manager and board member Jeremiah Quintin said previously.
Although that charity’s board members are scrambling for an alternate location at which meals can be prepared, the kitchen’s last meal will be served Aug. 16 at its Penn Center Mall location on South Townsend.
Additionally, Warriors Rest is faced with having to raise $30,000 in a short time in order to make a downpayment to purchase the home that currently puts a roof over the heads of about 11 needy veterans.
Shepherd’s Hand, another charity for those down on their luck, no longer has a site at which to serve hot meals, although it continues the bulk of its overall ministry, including commodities distribution.
“The Christ’s Kitchen thing is tragic,” Hauck said.
“Until this week, it (neediness) has been under the rug, but how can you not notice, this week, the disadvantaged people who are going to be affected?”
Martinez already knows the answer.
Through Shepherd’s Hand, he provides food to hungry people, no income requirements attached. He also provides food to nonprofits and continues other components of his mission.
But he cannot provide housing beyond a few motel nights here and there.
Martinez told of a woman, with a baby and a toddler, who has nowhere to got.
“She’s literally sleeping (outside). That’s the only thing I have available for her, is a sleeping bag and a tent,” he said.
“These are the people we’re working with. They’re not all stereotypes. I couldn’t help this lady because I didn’t have a place for her to stay. That’s real life here in Montrose.”
Montrose problem needs Montrose solution
Montrose cannot just hope to shunt its homeless to another community with resources, the men said.
Prior to the Lighthouse offering overnight winter housing — first, in dorm space provided by Olathe farmer John Harold and then, in the Brown Center — homeless people here were being taken to Delta to stay at the Abraham Connection, another wintertime shelter.
Shelter organizers ultimately told Montrose to look into creating its own solutions: bed space at Abraham Connection was already tight, as it also is in Grand Junction.
“It takes a lot of time and resources to take care of people who are down and out,” Abraham Connection board president Cheryl Oeltjenbruns said. “Montrose has a good group of people who are willing and it’s a shame they can’t get the respect for what they’re trying to do.”
When it first operated in Harold’s Olathe farmworker dorm, Lighthouse drew concerns from town officials there, Hauck said. However, there were few problems.
“Fact is, we didn’t get into any trouble the years we were out there,” he said.
“Still, it’s a Montrose problem. Anyplace we send people, they are going to say ‘It’s a Montrose problem. Take care of your own.’”
Abraham Connection initially offered shelter in the basement of a Delta church. It later received grant funding through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to build a permanent shelter. The charity’s housing specialist had connections within the City of Delta and the board approached officials to inquire where zoning would allow a shelter.
The city had a piece of ground near where a truck bypass ultimately was built and sold it to Abraham Connection at a discount. The required public hearing drew only one person, Oeltjenbruns said: “We never had pushback.”
The new shelter in Delta opened in December 2015.
“We’ve not had a problem with the business community and our guests. For the most part, our guests respect our conditions of stay,” Oeltjenbruns said.
These conditions bar loitering within a certain distance of the building and prohibit panhandling anywhere in the city of Delta.
Keeping things running smoothly comes down to communication, Oeltjenbruns said.
Although Abraham Connection only provides overnight shelter between November and April, it is open year-round for case management services each Monday and for lunch. There, people can pick up their mail or take a shower, too.
“We try to help them move through the system. This is a multi-faceted issue. There is no one reason why people are homeless. We try to meet their needs,” Oeltjenbruns said.
Hauck and Martinez see failing to address homelessness as a matter of life and death.
“Somebody would freeze to death. We’ve got little kids that wouldn’t be taken care of. It would be an awful situation,” Hauck said.
“We don’t have people attracted to come here in the wintertime just because we’re here (at Brown Center). The people we serve generally come from around here, or they are transients and don’t stay long.”
Lighthouse could, with the proper facility, not just keep people off the street, but stop some from being driven to petty crimes just so they can eat. The individuals could also be steered toward many resources, but when people are deprived of basics, from counseling to access to medical care, “there is a huge cost,” Hauck said.
Lighthouse could stave off a lot of those costs if it had the chance to meet needs at the front end, he added.
“We got people (potentially) freezing to death, not getting access to social services, people that aren’t being coached through the system with the skills they need, and people driven down deeper than where they are. There are enormous costs,” Hauck said.
Martinez reiterated what he has said before: Rejecting a shelter facility does not mean there will not be homeless people. The difference is, there is no way to control homelessness issues if nothing is put in place.
“Most people don’t realize that being homeless is embarrassing and they don’t walk around with flags saying ‘I’m homeless,’” he said.
Homeless people who are passing through town — true transients — might carry signs and panhandle, he said.
“Our resident homeless don’t do that. They stay out of sight, but there’s getting to be so many of them, they don’t stay out of sight anymore. They’ve got no place to go and they’ll have fewer places to go with Christ’s Kitchen closing down,” Martinez said.
Martinez said city council’s decision upset him, because it seems there is no place the city would welcome a homeless resource center.
Initial talks when North Park was in play led him to understand he could serve meals and offer other services out of the building even without a rezone, he said — but once money had been put down, and by the time the rezone request reached city council, he was told that was not the case.
Hauck said he understood the reasons why North Park neighbors might be concerned, but the stigma surrounding homelessness is unfair.
“I don’t doubt there are sincere concerns, but there were a lot of concerns expressed about criminal activity and unsanitary stuff. We never had any of that at the Brown Center. The people we help are not criminals. They’re just regular people,” he said.
Hauck said the vote hurt the people Lighthouse serves. Many, he said, were “devastated this is how the city apparently feels about them.”
Martinez said he appreciates people having empathy for the homeless, but it can’t stop at that.
“We need to be more proactive in dealing with it as a city and a community. If you don’t take action yourself, at least enable others. That’s all Lighthouse and Shepherd’s Hand are trying to do,” he said.
There is a collective responsibility to help those in need, Oeltjenbruns believes.
“I don’t think you can turn your back on people. You don’t have to run out and build a shelter, but you can donate a couple bucks to the cause, a pair of socks or some laundry detergent. It goes a long way to making life better for someone else,” she said.
“If you can just keep people housed, even in a shelter at night, you’re keeping them warm, you’re keeping them fed and safe and your community is better off because of that.
“That’s what I wish Montrose could see. You don’t want them in your yard, but if you don’t have a shelter, that’s where they’re going to be.”
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer.