Winter is just around the corner, and the Chaffee County Homeless Coalition is busy planning to provide overnight shelter for men during the cold months.
“Our goal is to prevent hypothermia,” said Mike Orrill, special projects coordinator for Chaffee County Public Health and a member of the Winter Shelter Committee, which is working on a funding plan to provide shelter at The Lighthouse at 346 G St.
“Jim Mundy is our on-sight director. Once we have the funding we’ll be looking for someone to work overnight in the shelter for a stipend,” Orrill said.
The organization estimates it needs to raise about $15,000, primarily to pay the night manager. Funding also is needed to help with motel vouchers for women and children and to purchase tent and sleeping bag care packages.
While the homeless population might not be readily visible, those people do exist.
“We have about 40 people in Salida who are homeless,” Mundy said. “About 25 are staying in tents or makeshift shelters in the mountains and along the river.
“During the summer we have tent cities behind Tenderfoot Mountain. Some of this population is generational, meaning parents and grandparents were also homeless. Some have jobs but don’t earn enough to afford the standard rent in Salida,” he said.
They are working to give a “hand up and not a hand out.”
Typically the shelter hosted about five men overnight last year; the highest count was seven one night. The shelter will hold a maximum of 10 men. Women and children are housed in local motels.
Speaking as former pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Orrill said during the winter rarely a week went by without someone coming in needing lodging for the cold nights.
“We weren’t always sure what to do,” Orrill said. “Local motels helped, but we saw a need for something more consistent. That was how the shelter idea came about. These men experiencing homelessness are our neighbors, and we need to keep them safe. A lot of them are long- term local residents, and many are working for minimum wage.”
To be admitted, men will have to pass background checks. No drugs, smoking, alcohol or violence will be tolerated. Solvista Health case managers are available for those who have substance abuse, legal or other issues. Law enforcement is also involved in the winter shelter program.
“Last winter, three (homeless men) got sober and three got jobs and opened checking accounts,” Orrill said. “The space for this housing is generously provided by The Lighthouse and the Board of Directors of Caring & Sharing.”
The Lighthouse will be open for shelter 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Once a man is admitted, he must stay until morning.
Men in need of overnight shelter during the winter months can apply at the Community Resource Center at Caring & Sharing, 220 W. Fourth St.
Those wanting to help with funding can mail or drop off checks or cash at Caring & Sharing, designated for the winter shelter. Contributions are tax deductible as a charitable donation.
“People become homeless for a lot of reasons,” Orrill said. “Some have lost their jobs or have mental health or substance abuse challenges. Some are teens who have been kicked out of the house.
“We need to diminish the stigma about being homeless. Many are just looking for a way out of a temporary situation. This is a caring community, and members of the Chaffee County Homeless Coalition feel this is an important service we can provide to those who are struggling.”
Anyone wanting more information can contact Orrill at 719-221-5418 or Mundy at 719-221-0799.