Fundraising efforts ramp up for Rifle recovery cafe
Despite hitting obstacles earlier this year, plans to establish a recovery-style cafe in Rifle are progressing.
Gina Long, helping raise funds for the cafe, said the center will be used as a refuge to better people afflicted with homelessness, addiction and mental health, among other issues.
Long, a former Western Garfield County Chamber of Commercemember and minister with worldwide organization NOVO Ministries, has been using her vast contact list to help New Castle resident Gabe Cohen connect with various businesses. The Recovery Cafe Network, based in Seattle, has agreed to grant $10,000 in matching funds once the goal is met.
“We just started,” Long said. “I would say that, out of the $10,000, we have $3,500.”
They’re now up to $4,500.
Data provided by the Catholic Charities Western Slope organization show in 2021 approximately 87 homeless individuals accounted from Aspen to Parachute who either live under sheltered or non-sheltered circumstances. Of which, about 35 people were attributed to Garfield County.
The term “sheltered” consists of people living in dwellings like tents, vehicles, hotel rooms paid for by agencies, domestic violence shelters, among other living situations. That data, however, are rather skewed since shelters practiced COVID-19 protocols, said regional director Marian McDonough.
“It used to be concentrated more in Glenwood Springs, but I think there is a small population — 10ish or so — that are in Rifle,” she said. “There’s beginning to be more of a population in Rifle.”
In 2020, figures from a Colorado Coalition for the Homeless study showed 52 homeless in Garfield County. Those figures, however, did not account for those living without shelter altogether. In 2019, however, 53 people were unsheltered and 18 used emergency shelters within the county.
“The homeless community in our valley is unique in itself because, most people here, they’re homeless because it’s so expensive to live here,” Long said. “We have a lot of homeless here who are homeless due to those things — not because they have mental health issues or drug issues.”
So far, Rifle’s Bank of Colorado, Columbine Ford and Alpine Bank, as well as FirstBank of Glenwood Springs, have made financial commitments. Meanwhile, Long and Cohen continue to seek contributions.
“We felt strong about it,” Rifle Alpine Bank Assistant Vice President Evin Sartin said. “I think (Gabe’s) doing great things for the community.”
Alpine Bank put forth a $1,000 sponsorship toward the effort.
“Gabe and Gina came in and spoke with us. Their mission statement is designed to help people in the recovery process,” Sartin said. “To Alpine Bank, we knew that it’d add value to the community and it’d be positive to be a part of. We hope our donation is the start of something for the rest of our community to get involved in.”
But progress hasn’t been all smooth sailing.
Cohen, after placing a down payment on a downtown storefront to open up the recovery cafe, was told in early January to vacate the premises. Even as the first coat of interior paint was still wet, the city told Cohen his cafe did not meet certain zoning requirements.
Undeterred, Cohen reached out to Colorado Mountain College Rifle campus and was able to finalize a six-month, trial lease toward the end of February.
Since then, Long said about six people have been able to access computers, use classroom space to conduct meetings with cafe officials and use the campus gym in an effort to better themselves.
If a recovery cafe is eventually established, the model could provide a safe place for those suffering from trauma, addiction, homelessness and other mental health challenges. In addition, nutritious meals, activities, peer-to-peer support services and recovery meetings will be made available.
The only requirement for membership — which is free — is a person has to be sober for at least 24 hours to enter.
Long will even pick up people and bring them to the cafe, even if they’re fresh out of jail.
“If I see someone standing on the side of the street,” Long said, “I’m going to go up to them and ask them what they need.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Since the pandemic began, demand for mental health assistance has only climbed.