Homelessness expected to continue to increase | PostIndependent.com

Homelessness expected to continue to increase

The number of homeless people is expected to grow over the coming months and perhaps years, depending on how soon the recession eases up, according to experts in Garfield County.

“We’re still going to see increased numbers of people who will become homeless, or people living without utilities to their home,” said Karen Lee, caseworker at the Glenwood Springs office of the Salvation Army.

People are having trouble making their house payments and paying the utilities, she said. With some irony, she added, “You just can’t have it all any more. You have to choose what will go.”

Two organizations dealing with poverty and homelessness in Garfield County – The Salvation Army and Feed My Sheep – agreed recently that homelessness resulting from the ongoing recession is worsening.

Some of the increase, said Karen Peppers of Feed My Sheep, is due to homeless people coming here from Denver and Grand Junction, where homeless shelters are full.

“The numbers have increased dramatically,” said Lee.

As recently as 2007, Lee explained, the Salvation Army’s staff consisted of just one person.

“In 2008 and 2009,” Lee continued, that lone worker “was completely overwhelmed,” and left the position. The staff was then expanded to two people – Lee and Amy Barr, the business manager of the Salvation Army office.

Barr told the Garfield County commissioners recently that the number of cases handled monthly by her organization had more than doubled from 2007 to 2010.

In January 2007, she explained, her office handed 650 cases. But in September 2010, she said, the office dealt with 1,250 cases.

Barr reported that she expects the caseload to grow by another 15 percent in 2011.

County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky asked Barr if she is seeing more homelessness because of the rising number of foreclosures in the county.

“I believe we are,” she responded quietly.

As troubling as the numbers are, Barr told the Post Independent, is the fact that “we’re seeing more and more [pleas for assistance to buy] medical prescriptions, for mental health issues,” which mirrors national reports of mentally disturbed men and women roaming the streets of many cities.

The Feed My Sheep program, which operates a winter sleeping shelter for the homeless, closed that shelter two weeks ago for lack of funds and to give the organization’s workers and volunteers a much-needed break. The organization’s daytime program reopened on Monday.

As with the Salvation Army, the Feed My Sheep numbers have been climbing since 2007, when the organization drew a total of 6,000 visits.

In 2009, Peppers said, the organization served 272 individuals, for a total of 7,881 visits, and that covered only the daytime program.

In the winter months of 2009, Peppers said, the program’s shelter housed 32 regulars – 28 men and four women.

In 2010, the numbers using the daytime program jumped to 309 individuals and a total of 8,430 visits. The winter shelter, she said, was handling as many at 55 on a given day.

And the numbers keep growing.

Peppers reported that on Jan. 1 of this year, the daytime program signed in 12 new names.

On March 28, she went on, she checked in a total of 29 people – 25 men and four women – for the daytime program.

“We are over anything we’ve ever had in the past,” she said.

The different programs are not only in the business of offering shelter, of course.

Lee and Barr noted that they will arrange bus fare for someone to leave the valley and go to stay with relatives or friends, or hand out propane heaters for people living in tents in the hills above Glenwood Springs, or money for gas to people living in their cars.

And both organizations reported seeing an increasing number of cases where unexpected medical bills have combined with other financial problems to push people toward insolvency.

Peppers said that her organization finds work for its clients as often as it can, even if it is out-of-state work, and they send cases into treatment whenever possible.

For example, Peppers recalled, a recent case involved a man whose wife divorced him and took their two children, and “he went to the bottle straight away. He’s been in and out of Valley View Hospital, costing that hospital a huge amount of money.”

But that man, whose name she did not disclose, is now enrolled in a two-year program at the Harvest Farm rehabilitation center in Denver, where the services are free and where the first order of business is a 90-day lockdown while the client sobers up.

Peppers checked on him this week, after he had 12 days at the 209-acre farm, and reported, “He’s been really good. He loves the program.”

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