Cheaper housing key to help homeless

Agencies look for coordination

Homelessness is not a separate issue within communities, it is interwoven with affordable housing and transportation.

This was one message at a planning session discussing homelessness in Southwest Colorado hosted Tuesday by the Regional Housing Alliance.

The session comes shortly after regional social-service agencies and volunteers surveyed individuals and families in the area to create the Vulnerability Index Survey of Homelessness in La Plata County. The survey found more than 250 people in Southwest Colorado are either already homeless or are one paycheck away.

The survey was part of a statewide program from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office to form Colorado’s first comprehensive homelessness plan.

Southwest Colorado is leading the charge of rural communities in the plan, said keynote speaker Jamie Van Leeuwen, deputy chief of staff for Hickenlooper.

“Most people don’t see the impact rural homelessness has on the state,” he said.

Without data such as the vulnerability index, it’s difficult to get an idea of how big an issue homelessness is outside of the Denver-metropolitan area, he said.

The next step communities need to take toward combating homeless is to address affordable housing and make a commitment to create more of it.

Between the Cortez and Durango shelters, about 80 beds are available for those in need. The safehouses in both communities provide a few more beds, but there are still not enough for everyone in need of shelter.

A common theme among presenters and attendees is the need for agencies to collaborate in an effort to eradicate homelessness and spend taxpayer money wisely, especially when budgets are already tight.

“The obvious need in (rural) communities is, there are not enough resources, but it’s also how you coordinate those resources,” Leeuwen said.

jdahl@durangoherald.com

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