MONTROSE – For more than seven years, Carolyn Carter has dreamed that someday Montrose would have a homeless shelter, and now that dream has come true.
Carter has been in a unique position to get to know the homeless people of Montrose since she founded Christ’s Kitchen, where anybody who’s hungry can get a free lunch five days a week. She’s seen a dramatic increase in families with children over the past few years, as has the Montrose School District.
Since last August, Carter and others have been working to try and find a place for a homeless shelter for families, spurred to action not only by the need they saw, but also by a report from the schools that the number of homeless students jumped from about 80 in 2009 to more than 200 in 2010.
Now, thanks to a recent agreement with the Montrose Housing Authority, the Olathe Dormitory, originally built for farm workers, will soon become home to homeless families.
Tim Heavers, director of the housing authority, said a grant from Montrose County will pay direct expenses, like utilities, for six months while other funding sources are sought. The housing authority has oversight, but the facility will go by its new name – Haven House – and will be run by a nonprofit board, paid staff and volunteers.
As a member of the board, Carter said negotiations have been ongoing with the county since November.
Families who want to apply to live in the facility first need to fill out an application and are invited to an orientation on April 11 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the facility at 4806 N. River Road in Olathe.
“It’s for families that may be interested in joining the program, but anyone and everybody is welcome to attend,” said Larry Frederickson, chairman of the Haven House board.
Two days later, on April 13, an open house will be held at Haven House from 3:30 to 6 p.m. for the entire community, Frederickson said. For more details call Frederickson at 626-5677 or Carter at 240-3941.
Getting the buildings occupied has long been a goal of the Housing Authority, Heavers said, and was made possible by the hard work of Haven House proponents and a grant from the county that will help cover operating expenses.
Montrose county commissioners approved a grant for up to $30,000 to be paid out in installments of $5,000 a month for six months, said county spokeswoman Kristin Modrell, but Haven House won’t start receiving funds until families start moving in.
That won’t be long, if the Haven House board has its way, Frederickson said.
“We’ll take possession on this coming Friday, April 1, and the next week we’ll be cleaning up, although it’s in pretty good shape.”
Community members like Frederickson and Carter decided Montrose needed a shelter when they became aware of a pressing need from churches and other agencies and the big increase in homeless kids based on statistics from the school district.
Families with children will have top priority for moving into Haven House, Frederickson said, and the facility will be drug and alcohol free. Tenants will also be expected to take part in various family enrichment programs, Frederickson said.
“The goal is to give them the tools they need to attain a self-sustaining life outside of Haven House,” he said.
Haven House will draw on other resources in the community and direct tenants there where appropriate, for say, anger management or parenting skills, but will offer its own programs as well.
One programs is called Whiz Kids, Frederickson said, a mentoring and tutoring program which will be offered at Haven House for tenants’ children and all kids in the Olathe area, with the help of Grace Community Church.
“We’ve seen it in action at another transitional program like ours, and it helps kids having difficulty in school and gives them someone to lean on besides their parent,” he said.
Haven House looks from the outside like a nice apartment complex, but it has a community commercial kitchen and communal dining room. Each unit shares a bath with another unit, which could work well for families with several children, or same gender parents sharing a bath, Carter said.
The facility has 36 living units and each has room for two beds, Frederickson said, adjoined by the bathroom.
“It’s well suited for a family with three or four children,” he said.
After potential tenant families complete their applications, a background check is conducted to verify their information, Fredrickson said.
The next step is to hire staff, train them and attract more volunteers, Frederickson said, as well as look for more future funding sources.
“We are beginning to build a stable source of financing, but all that will happen gradually,” he said.
Money from the county grant won’t go directly to Haven House, Frederickson said, but will be funneled through the Housing Authority.
“That enables the Housing Authority to let us have the facility on favorable terms,” he said. “We’re still paying an occupancy fee, and the Housing Authority is picking up the utilities.”
The county doesn’t see itself as the sole supporter of Haven House, and neither does Frederickson. He said other grants must be sought and more funding sources must be tapped. Right now, the organization is funded solely by donations from many individuals and a few churches.
The impetus to get a shelter going soon came from the numbers of homeless kids from area schools, which Frederickson believes is connected to the 600 foreclosures in Montrose County in the last two years that cast many families out of their homes.
“They’re either sleeping on someone else’s sofa, subject to the whims of the people they’re staying with, or in a car or under or bridge,” he said.
Frederickson said if Haven House doesn’t completely fill up with families, space will be made for individuals who are homeless, but they will be given thorough background checks.
“We can’t have people with a history of violence or sex offenders mixing with kids, so we will screen them,” he said.
Haven House registered as a nonprofit with the state in October of last year. Since then a wide swath of volunteers and community activists have helped make Carter’s dream come true, she said.
Carter was already at work this week, surveying the large kitchen at Haven House, which she said was “remarkably complete” with a big six burner stove with a grill, a deep fryer, ice machine and a large refrigerator.
Each unit has a small “cube” refrigerator and a microwave, Carter said, so tenants can snack and make frozen dinners in their rooms.
“But we will encourage them to cook dinners in the kitchen and eat in the large dining room,” she said.
Haven House is looking for a kitchen manager and a volunteer coordinator as well as a case manager to live on site. Those interested can call Carter or Frederickson.
In the meantime, the sprucing up continues, and Carter is going to try and get local churches to each take on a room to repaint and add homey touches, such as bed linens.
Carter said she’s also trying to get use of the property next door for a community garden so residents can grow some of their own food.
The hope of a future shelter was the reason Carter started Christ’s Kitchen back in 2004, she said, but as she looked over what’s needed to get Haven House up and running, her mind turned to more practical matters.
“Now I think I’m going to go out and buy a big coffee pot,” she said.