We're talking about human beings here.’
MONTROSE – Homelessness in Montrose is real, and is affecting every socioeconomic group from children to the elderly.
That was the synopsis of a study on the quality of life for a slice of Montrose's homeless population, as revealed Tuesday during a community meeting where stakeholders reaffirmed their commitment to curb the problem.
Over 50 percent of those surveyed in the study reported to suffer from some form of a mental health disorder. On top of that, 44 percent said they additionally suffer from substance abuse.
"I think the most startling was the number of homeless who have mental health and substance abuse issues," said Kaye Hotsenpiller, the regional director of Hilltop/Tri-County Resource Center. Hotsenpiller also serves as the chair of the Montrose Coalition on Homelessness, the organization which hosted Tuesday’s meeting along with representatives from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's office and the Colorado Division of Housing.
The coalition conducted a three-day point-in-time survey from Jan. 22-24, in which volunteers surveyed local at-risk residents as part of the state's Colorado Counts survey in conjunction with the national 100,000 Homes Campaign vulnerability index.
Montrose County is one of 22 Colorado counties that have participated in such a survey, including Mesa County in 2012. Each community survey is conducted slightly differently, but all have gathered data regarding job loss, substance abuse, mental illness and domestic violence that is generating considerable attention.
"Our goal is to get this information out, come up with as a community where do we want to go from here, what gaps there are and what gaps we can fill within our community," Hotsenpiller said.
The survey was an effort to calculate the number of homeless residents, define reasons why those individuals remain homeless, and through a public process, gauge and take action on what services and resources can be created to help this population.
Katie Symons, representing the governor's office, said the 87 surveys with a 92 percent response rate represented only a small cross-section of Montrose's homeless population.
"If at any time someone was uncomfortable with a question, they didn't have to answer," Symons said, adding that answers were "self-reported."
Of those surveyed, 32-38 percent met at least one high-risk criterion, which is lower than the national average of 44 percent, while 28 percent surveyed were listed as "medically vulnerable."
Symons reported 35 respondents visited the emergency room one or more times in the past three months; two said they had visited the ER 12 times during the same period.
A total of 114 inpatient hospitalizations, where the person spent at least one night in the hospital, were reported and 28-32 percent said they had no medical insurance.
Of the 87 survey participants, 11 reported having cancer, 17 reported having a heart condition, 14 reported having diabetes, 15 reported to have suffered from frostbite and 12 reported having a condition that limits their physical mobility.
"We got a lot of frequent flyers, people who continue to go to the hospital who are not getting the proper health care that they need, probably because they don't have insurance and are not able to see specialists and doctors," Symons said.
Symons said 14 people suffered from substance abuse, mental illness and chronic disease all at the same time and 17-20 percent said they had been the victim of a violent attack.
"We're talking about human beings here," Symons said, adding that women surveyed had higher risk factors for mental illness than men.
Symons said the vulnerability index, which was conducted at the same time as the survey, reported 29 unduplicated, sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families living in Montrose County specifically. Of those, 11 were children who were living on the street, random buildings or living in cars with their families.
Coalition member Richard Godsil added there were currently 50 Montrose students within the community who are homeless.
To better help homeless families, the Montrose coalition has its sights set in forming a new chapter of the organization, "One Congregation, One Family.”
This program, which was created in Denver, lays a foundation for local churches to sponsor a homeless family and provide basic assistance and instruction for living a more structured and stable life.
"If each church in our community took one family on and offered support and assistance, it would go a long way toward changing our homeless issues," Hotsenpiller said.
Hotsenpiller said assistance did not have to be just financial, but could extend into an overall support system to help families reach a stable life.
"I believe Montrose has a big heart," Godsil told the audience, smiling.
In addition to the church program, Symons said the Montrose community, in partnership with the state, needs to look at additional services including constructing new shelters or remodeling existing buildings to serve as community shelters.
"At the end of this we want to have some next steps, so we will be able to look at single men, single women, families, youth and veterans and come up with sub-committees that want to help address issues with each of those populations," Hotsenpiller said.
In a previous interview, Garey Martinez, co-founder of Shepard's Hands in Montrose, a non-profit facility that serves breakfast and lunch to needy individuals and families each day, said he hopes funding to operate a full-time shelter will become a community priority in the near future.
"People here say that there isn't a homeless problem, that's because they don't see them," Martinez said.
According to Tuesday's report, 13 respondents said they were veterans. Five of those veterans are listed as medically vulnerable, and only one reported having received benefits from the Veterans Administration. Four reported having a VA card and six said they had received medical attention from the VA at some point in the past.
Army veteran Brad Furness provides a good example of how homeless veterans here are benefiting from local resources. He drove from South Dakota to Montrose last December, only to live in his truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
Since then Furness has found shelter, furniture and food through combined city and county services and organizations and the efforts of the Welcome Home Montrose Warrior Resource Center.
The resource center was mentioned Tuesday as a vital resource for homeless veterans in the area.
Montrose County Commissioner Gary Ellis said the issue is "so timely, so important," and stressed that the county commission is dedicated in finding solutions.
The next coalition meeting is scheduled for March 18, from 10-11 a.m. at the Hilltop office located at 540 S. First Street.
Results of Study:
Length of Time Homeless
• The average number of years homeless for the Medically Vulnerable is 5.09, and the average age
• The average number of years homeless for the Non-Medically Vulnerable is 11.6 months and the
average age is 45.1
• 14 people or 16% meet the HUD definition of “chronically homeless”
Mental Health and Substance Abuse (Total Surveyed)
• 44 people or 51% reported some mental health issue
• 9 people reported having been held against their will for mental health reasons
• 38 people or 44% reported a history of substance abuse
• 13 people reported having received some form of treatment for substance abuse
• 28 people or 32% are dually diagnosed (mental health + substance abuse)
Physical Health Conditions (Total Surveyed)
• 14 people reported having Asthma
• 14 people reported having Diabetes
• 4 people reported having Hepatitis C
• 17 people reported having Heart conditions
• 3 people reported having Emphysema
• 11 people reported having Cancer
• 15 people reported suffering from Frostbite
• 4 people reported having Kidney Disease
• 4 people reported having Liver Cirrhosis or Disease
• 12 people reported having a disabling condition that limits their mobility
• 5 people reported having used IV Drugs at some point
Veterans (Totaled Surveyed)
• 13 or 15% surveyed were Veterans
• 5 of the 13 Veterans are Medically Vulnerable
• Of these 13, 12 reported an Honorable or General Honorable Discharge (1 did not report)
• Only 1 reported having VA benefits; 4 reported having a VA card (3 of those 4 have their card at
Grand Junction Medical Center); 6 reported having received some sort of medical care from the
VA at some point
Youth (Totaled Surveyed)
• 3 respondents were 25 years or younger
• None of the 3 have increased mortality risks specific to that age group (Youth risk factors are
Hepatitis C/HIV+, drink alcohol everyday for past 30 days, injection drug use)
Seniors (Total Surveyed)
• 14 people or 16% are 55 years or older
• 8 people or 9% are 65 years or older
• 38 people reported having been in jail
• 7 people reported having been in Prison
• 14 people reported having been in the Foster Care system
Inpatient Hospitalizations (Total Surveyed)
• A total of 114 inpatient hospitalizations were reported in the past year
Emergency Room Visits (Total Surveyed)
• 35 people had visited the ER 1 or more times in the last 3 months for a total of 85 visits
• 2 respondents had each been 12 times in the last 3 months (accounts for 28% of total)
Health System Impacts (Total Surveyed)
• 28 people or 32% reported having no insurance
• 62 people report receiving Food Stamps as a source of income or being on some other form of public assistance
• 8 report panhandling as a source of income
• 24 report having SSI or SSDI as a source of income
• 44 people reported working on or off the books as a source of income
• 17-20% report being a victim of a violent attack since becoming homeless