Area homeless don’t fit the state model
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Homeless people in Garfield County don’t fit the mold. That’s what a “point in time” survey found on Aug. 28, 2006. Here homeless people come to that situation not because of drug or alcohol problems or mental illness, or because they can’t find jobs, but because they can’t find a place to live.While 118 people were accounted for in the Garfield County survey, those who answered the survey questions represent perhaps only half to a third of the actual homeless population in Garfield County.”The numbers were way under-reported,” said Tom Ziemann, director of Catholic Charities Western Slope in Glenwood Springs, and coordinator of the survey in the seven counties of northwest Colorado.Not counted were people who may have been working that day, or people living outdoors in tents and their cars. Those taking the survey were approached by area nonprofit agencies that provided services for them, Ziemann said.Nor were many of Karolyn Spencer’s clients counted, homeless who come in to the Feed My Sheep day shelter in Glenwood Springs. Some refused to be questioned.”The unsheltered homeless are not trustful. Only 17 agreed to answer the survey,” Spencer said. “People don’t want to talk about the fact they’re homeless.”By comparison, she sees about 30 people a day in the shelter in the basement of the old St. Stephens Church in Glenwood Springs.The numbers, published in a study by the Colorado Interagency Council on Homelessness earlier this month, paint a complex picture of just who are the area’s homeless.Typically, a homeless person in Garfield County is a single adult who has been homeless before and who lives day to day by “couch surfing” with friends or in a motel room because he or she cannot afford the high rents in the area, Ziemann said. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed were single parents with kids and 17 percent were couples with kids.About a third of those answering the survey said they had a drug or alcohol problem and 20 percent said they had some kind of mental illness.Most – 72 percent – had a job in the past year.Counter to the more familiar model of the chronic single white homeless man brought down by drugs and alcohol and mental illness, which is typical of cities, almost half of the homeless in Garfield County, 45 percent, became that way through lack of housing.”This is a different demographic altogether,” Ziemann said.Data can fuel appeals to state legislature, but for Ziemann and Spencer who work on the ground every day with those most in need, the major problem – housing everyone can afford – is going unaddressed here.Both expressed their frustration that local government has not handled the problem. “This is going to take regular people speaking out,” Ziemann said. Government must also play a part. “Government has to see themselves as protectors of the community good … The way I see it we’ll lose our sense of community if we don’t solve it,” Ziemann added.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. email@example.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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