MONTROSE – Homelessness is a serious problem in the Montrose area, and it’s getting worse.
Katie Donahue, youth program coordinator for Hilltop Tri-County Resources, said the Montrose School District has around 89 families who said they were homeless when registering children for school.
Donahue is paid by the nonprofit Tri-County, but works in the offices of Montrose County Health and Human Resources with both homeless young people and their families. Donahue said the number of actual homeless families is probably much higher.
“That number is still not capturing all the families, and I think some families don’t want to say they’re homeless,” she said.
But where are they? The homeless population in Montrose is largely invisible, she said, and many families “couch surf” by staying temporarily with friends or relatives, sometimes sleeping in cars in parks or bouncing around from one temporary place to another, but with no place of their own.
“People don’t see couch surfing as being homeless, but by definition, homelessness is not having stable, adequate housing,” she said. “We’re finding there is a need as far as families, youth and individuals who are homeless because there is not a shelter here.”
Homeless people in Montrose are not transients, she said, but many Montrose residents have fallen on hard times because of loss of jobs, mostly in construction, which is at a virtual standstill.
Donahue and people from other nonprofit agencies and churches have formed the Montrose Shelter Project and have been meeting weekly for several weeks to find a way to create a homeless shelter here in Montrose, which they say is desperately needed.
Melanie Hall, director of the Montrose Community Foundation, will give a presentation on the state of homelessness in Montrose County on Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Montrose library. The public is invited.
Hall’s assistant, Halli Smith, said public input is being sought for solutions to the growing problem. “We want people to learn more about homelessness here, to address the topic and see what’s possible for a safe home for them,” she said. A coalition of local entities will be tapped for resources and ideas, Smith said, including Catholic Outreach, Homeward Bound, the Montrose Police Department, and other nonprofits.
Carolyn Carter, director of Christ’s Kitchen, which serves free lunches five days a week to anyone who needs a hot meal, is also a leader in the shelter effort. Carter said more and more families are showing up for meals, and many have no place of their own. “I started Christ’s Kitchen five years ago with the idea of having a shelter, but I knew it was not quite the right timing for the town,” she said. “But now I’m seeing more and more families who are homeless.”
Pastor Chris Millikin and his wife Susan of United Christian Word Ministries are also at the forefront of trying to get a shelter for Montrose. The couple have been spreading the word that a shelter is needed, but find that some people don’t believe there is a problem.
Susan said while talking to people at a recent Main in Motion she was astonished at some of their attitudes. “To my sadness, I talked with people who were very snotty, with the attitude that we don’t need a shelter and if we do, they shouldn’t be here anyway,” she said. “These people think they can ignore it, and don’t want a shelter, but there is a great need.”
“There are about 30 percent more homeless families now than when the recession began” according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to HUD, more than 3 million people are homeless in the U.S., and 5 million more are at risk, paying more than half their income for rent alone.
Circumstances like a missed paycheck, health problems or unpaid bills can force families into homelessness, states the website homelesssheltersite.org.
Most people are embarrassed about being homeless, Chris Millikin said, because they were once stable. “It’s a lot of stigma, and people still want to have dignity and pride and it’s hard to say, ‘I need help,’” he said. “But the need needs to be met instead of waiting, instead of turning a blind eye.”