Sharon Sullivan
Free Press Staff Writer

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November 25, 2009
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Tent for homeless scrapped

A local advocacy group for the homeless canceled its order for a large tent, but they haven't given up on the idea of establishing a temporary shelter for those without homes during winter.

The group Housing First! No More Deaths! met with city officials Nov. 19 to discuss requirements for erecting a large, heated tent on a vacant lot near downtown where homeless people could spend nights when outdoor temperatures are freezing. The tent would have been open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and would have sheltered up to 49 people.

Jacob Richards, of Housing First! No More Deaths! said the tent they had ordered would require too many modifications to conform to building codes.

Richards said the requirements are too burdensome and too costly.

However, "we're going to keep pushing for it as if it's going to get done," he said. The group has sought the use of empty buildings, as well as lots where they could put up a tent.

Building code required the tent have a 21-pound square foot snow load, and an external heating device to vent hot air into the tent as opposed to an inside heater or woodstove.

Those types of heaters "run $1,300 a month to rent, and that's not including the propane," Richards said.

The meeting Thursday was preliminary. Before the city can comment on the feasibility of the project, it would need to review a site plan, said Ivy Williams, development services supervisor.

"If it was an impossibility, we wouldn't have met with Jacob," Williams said.

Richards and other members of the group left the meeting with a list of requirements that would have to be met to submit a site plan. After a site plan is submitted several agencies, including the Downtown Development Authority are given an opportunity to comment on a specific proposal.

Williams said she understands how the group feels the building code requirements for the tent are demanding.

"If they could come up with an existing building where we could review it for change-of-use, instead to (reviewing it as) a brand new development it would simplify the process," Williams said.

A new development has certain structural requirements to ensure public safety, Williams said.

Richards said they are still looking for a vacant building with an owner willing to donate its use for a few months.

Housing First! No More Deaths! proposed a tent, known as the Mobile Alternative Shelter for the Homeless because Doug McCarrie of California offered the use of an empty lot he owns at 260 Ute Ave.

The organization raised $1,200 toward the purchase of a tent, largely by passing a can at its weekly meetings where members (many of them homeless) dropped nickels and dimes.

The group meets 1:30 p.m. every Tuesday at Whitman Park (Fifth Street and Ute Avenue). A third of the group is comprised of people who live in houses, and the other two-thirds are people who are homeless, Richards said.

Richards said the group is modeled on a Denver Housing First program where people are provided housing before trying to tackle their other issues, such as alcoholism.

"Homelessness is not something that's going to be ignored away, or policed away," Richards said. "It's got to be done with intent. The real solution is housing."

Richards and a 46-year-old man called Wolffe decided to form the advocacy group after sitting on Richards' porch one day, reminiscing about the homeless friends they had lost in previous years to exposure.

Sixteen homeless people died in Grand Junction last year mostly during the winter months, and 11 died in 2007.

"I don't know what the magic number is before the city does something," Richards said. "Sixteen is too high."

"One is too high," said Wolffe, who has been homeless for years.

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