These days, here in the Roaring Fork Valley and well beyond, the subject of housing comes up in conversations held from family dining room tables to city council meetings. Rent is sky high and the average sale price for a home in Carbondale is well over a million dollars.
Many folks work within the community to do their, or their organization’s, part in addressing the housing crisis. Each effort contributes to a larger solution, according to Debbie Wilde. Wilde is busy facilitating the onset of the Glenwood Springs Housing Stability Coalition.
For the past few years, Wilde has been doing contract work as a special projects facilitator for the city of Glenwood Springs. She focuses on homelessness and its many causes. She has guided the city to an understanding that better recovery resources are needed — particularly a detox center. She conveyed that these, and several other sociological issues are interconnected, and working toward one end helps another.
“Those of us who work in human services, or on some of these issues, we just really don’t have any fences,” Wilde stated, “like the people who we serve.”
Built For Zero, a national initiative aiming to end homelessness has a chapter administered locally by Western Mountain Regional Health Alliance. Together they invited individuals and organizations concerned with housing stability to a three part educational series.
In May 2021, the groups started a series of informational sessions called “Moving toward Solutions: from Homelessness to Housing” with one focus completed each month. The three lessons were: 1) Homelessness 101, 2) Best Practices and 3) Pathways Forward. The final lesson was held in-person and participants committed to doing what was in their power to keep the momentum up.
“One of the things we talked about in our first education piece, Homelessness 101, is that the number one reason that people are homeless is the lack of housing and lack of affordable housing, housing within their grasp,” explained Wilde. “It’s not substances, and it’s not mental health — although those definitely are factors for some people — but the number one thing is the lack of attainable housing.”
“It is not just about the few guys under the bridge,” she lamented and pointed out that many people on the verge of, or already experiencing, homelessness are working tirelessly to stay afloat.
Western Mountain Regional Health Alliance, the city of Glenwood Springs, the Glenwood Chamber, Catholic Charities and Mind Springs are a few organizations that have been involved in the coalition thus far.
“The coalition itself is really learning a lot,” said Wilde. “These are citizens, and this isn’t necessarily their field of work. Although we do have professionals involved, many of us have had a steep learning curve.”
Each participant was assigned to a working group, some based on their professions or personal connections and others solely based on interest. The various working groups were assigned to look into: the practicality of an emergency shelter, public education and communication, building the coalition itself and developing a registry.
For the registry, the group is surveying Garfield County. “When people ask, ‘How many homeless people do we have here?’ We say, ‘Well, that’s a good question that we’re trying to answer and we’re working on that.’”
Wilde is hoping to have the resulting data by the end of the year. The predicament is that some who are affected may choose not to participate in the survey. Still, she predicted, “we’re going to see a whole lot more working people who are unhoused.”
To the coalition, establishing an emergency shelter should be a high priority for the area. While there are groups such as Feed My Sheep that operate an overnight shelter during the winter months, their space is limited.
Housing stability experts generally agree that addressing homelessness ultimately benefits the rest of a community. “It’s a win-win,” Wilde sighed. “The win when we impact homelessness is also a win for everybody else in the community” from emergency services to economic health, she explained.
The coalition is hoping to launch a webpage around the beginning of 2022. For now, those who wish to participate can contact Wilde at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The coalition’s next meeting is on Dec. 1 and there will be a virtual attendance option.