Carbondale looks at how to help homeless
As winter storms have picked up in frequency, many Carbondalians wanting to help the homeless will look for resources from out-of-town nonprofits.
A bridge just north of town becomes a crowded spot for the homeless to seek shelter, said Lynn Kirchner, a Carbondale realty agent who sparked a social media dialogue after being distressed by the number of people she saw without shelter in the harsh winter elements.
“It’s time Carbondale opens a homeless shelter at night,” she posted in a community Facebook group. “We are the only community without one.”
Not everyone stuck out in the cold is a transient, Kirchner noted. One person in particular was a former rancher in Carbondale who was hit by hard times. As a property manager, she said, it’s hard to turn away the people who are looking to get out of the elements.
Carbondale’s town government doesn’t have an answer for the problem, which needs both immediate and long-term solutions, said Mayor Stacey Bernot.
Expenses for operating a shelter could quickly stack up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the town shouldn’t try to replicate the resources that others are already providing, said Bernot.
Said Kirchner, “This is an expensive community, and it can be very unforgiving. We don’t have a support system for people to get back on their feet. This is more important than a cat ordinance” — a reference to Town Council debate earlier in the year on whether to put restrictions
“There’s never been a real effort to establish a homeless shelter in town.” said Kirchner.
“We had an overwhelming response on Facebook, and many people wanted to jump into the bigger issue of affordable housing. But my point is that it’s zero degrees outside.
“We need to act before we have a fatality,” said Kirchner. One winter a homeless man froze to death in Carbondale, sending the community reeling.
“You can teach the village how to fish, but in the meantime they’re starving. Let’s bring some food and teach them how to fish at the same time,” she said.
After Kirchner met with Bernot, the two agreed that town government couldn’t move fast enough to help the people in immediate need.
“There’s no time to go though the town’s process to help,” Kirchner said. “We can’t go through planning and zoning or the Board of Trustees.”
Nonprofits such as Feed My Sheep in Glenwood Springs seem like the most logical fit for this problem, said Kirchner. “We’re by no means the first to take on homelessness, so let’s learn from others. We’re not starting from scratch.”
Feed My Sheep is a great resource, but either those services have to come closer to Carbondale or people have to be able to travel there, said Kirchner.
“We aren’t asking people to take the homeless into their own houses, we’re asking for volunteers.”
While Kirchner and others work to bring outside resources into town, people can also help without giving cash to the homeless, which is not recommended. A bus card can get a homeless person into Glenwood, where there’s a shelter and soup kitchen, for example.
Bernot talked about getting people to volunteer access to the Carbondale Recreation Center so the homeless can take showers.
This effort should also include talking to the homeless about what they need and educating them about the resources available, said Kirchner.
Kirchner already has a list of 20 people who have expressed interest in helping.
Carbondale has an informal network individuals and business that go out of their way to lend this kind of support, she said, but the town isn’t always the easiest place to get support.
“You first have to prove to the people that you’re idea will benefit the community,” she said.
But, “I don’t hear ‘Mission Impossible’ music in the back ground here.” she added.
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