Affordable housing remains the big problem for area poor |

Affordable housing remains the big problem for area poor

Life appears to be looking up for the poor in Garfield County. LIFT-UP director Mike Powell told the county commissioners Monday that demands for services, such as its food bank, were “flat or decreasing” so far this year. “Most people have been able to find work.”However, the enduring need in the county is affordable housing.”That’s probably our biggest issue for people on the lower end of the pay scale,” Powell said. “I don’t know of any miracle cures for that.”The county also continues to have a homeless population that needs help. Karolyn Spencer, who heads up the Feed My Sheep program which provides a place for the homeless to eat, shower and do laundry, but not to sleep, said 241 people came through her two motel rooms at the Silver Spruce Motel in Glenwood Springs last year.”Last winter hypothermia claimed one of our homeless,” Spencer said in a report to the county commissioners. “In response, Feed My Sheep opened our motel room and rented a second room at night during December, January and part of February.”Between 5 to 15 people used the rooms each night during that period.”We ran out of body space it was so tight,” she said. “Next year we’ll rent three rooms. We turned away eight people (during that period).”Many of the homeless whom Spencer cares for are long-term residents of the valley.”They have children, ex-wives or ex-husbands, parents who live here,” she said. Many live in their cars or trucks or campers without heat, and a group of seven even continued to live in their tent during the winter months.Currently, there are no homeless shelters between Denver and Grand Junction, Spencer said.Spencer echoed Powell’s concern that affordable housing is the primary problem for low income people in the county. “These people are day laborers or low wage clerks and restaurant workers. While they do earn money, they are simply unable to save the first, last and damage deposit money required to rent a place to stay,” she said in her report.Rentals are difficult to find these days, especially with the influx of oil and gas workers who “have pre-empted all the available low rent housing available in Rifle and Parachute,” she said. “In addition, oil and gas industry’s need for worker housing has driven up rents because the supply does not meet the demand.”Some of the pressure for homeless shelter in the area may be alleviated when the Salvation Army builds transitional housing for 25 families in the Glenwood Meadows shopping center property, said Micaela Johns of the local Salvation Army office.Catholic Charities in the county also helps with rent assistance and placing the homeless in transitional housing until they can move into a market rental.Director Tom Ziemann has also been converting the old St. Stephen’s Church in Glenwood Springs into office space for LIFT-UP, Feed My Sheep and the Salvation Army. The basement of the former church will be used by Feed My Sheep as a day center where the homeless can have a meal, take showers and do laundry. LIFT-UP will also house its food bank in the building.Ziemann also urged the commissioners to partner with Catholic Charities to build low income housing. The Catholic Archdiocese of Denver has funded several low income housing projects in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.”Catholic Charities has a good track record in the valley,” he said.Commissioner John Martin liked the idea but expressed frustration that much talk has gone into the idea of building affordable housing but there’s been little action.”We have the locations we can use, we’ve already identified what we need and where we need it, and we’ve got the money,” he said. “So let’s build it.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext.

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