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November 29, 2012
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Memorial service to honor those who've died homeless in Grand Junction

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - A tree grows in Hawthorne Park, planted in memory of those community members who have died homeless. A group of citizens who provided services for the homeless, began meeting annually, starting in 1996, to pay tribute to those who had died from exposure due to homelessness. Eleven years ago, the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless planted a tree sapling in Hawthorne Park to remember those who died for lack of shelter.Like past years, coalition members and homeless individuals will gather at the park to tie ribbons on the memorial tree, offer a candle-lighting ceremony and non-denominational prayer 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2.In 2007, 23 homeless individuals died from exposure, according to the homeless coalition. The following year, 16 people died. No deaths from exposure have been noted since the Emergency Overflow Program began in 2009, coalition chairperson Mollie Woodard said.In 2007, a handful of churches opened their sanctuary for emergency overnight shelter during the winter months. In 2008, the Grand Valley Peace and Justice Coalition, Homeward Bound of the Grand Valley and various churches partnered to form the emergency overflow program. An overflow shelter continues to be needed for men displaced from HomewardBound homeless shelter, 2853 North Ave., where women and families are admitted first. As the number of homeless families have increased, so have the number of single men turned away.This year, 12 different churches and other organizations will take turns giving overnight shelter for single men during the coldest months of the year. The program kicked off Oct. 28 and will run through April 14. Each site serves as a shelter for a two-week period. Some locations can accommodate 14 men. Others have housed as many as 32.A large number of volunteers donate food, drive vans to transport the men from the North Avenue shelter, where they eat dinner, shower and take a breathalyzer test. Those who have been drinking alcohol are not allowed to stay at the shelters.Volunteers also help out by spending the night at the site to ensure the safety of the men. "Our contention and that of the many volunteers, is it is not acceptable to let anyone die out on the streets of our home," Peace and Justice program coordinator Sherry Cole said. Though not officially winter, the North Avenue shelter has already reached capacity. The shelter can legally house 90 people per night. Churches and other organizations provide beds to another 40 or so individuals, Homeward Bound interim director AJ Johnson said. "We feed them, but we can't house them," Johnson said of the overflow. "We just don't have the room. The emergency overflow program is life-saving."The Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless has grown to include more than 35 agencies, shelters, churches and individuals who are working to not only provide services to the homeless, but also to end homelessness in the Grand Valley.

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The Post Independent Updated Nov 29, 2012 03:40PM Published Nov 29, 2012 03:37PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.