Community members, church leaders call on Summit County officials to help address working homeless issues

BRECKENRIDGE — Community members gathered inside the county commissioner’s chambers Tuesday morning to show support for the Local Overnight Safe Parking Permit program in Summit County.

Organizers with Good Bridge Community and the Summit Colorado Interfaith Council, who help to run the program, presented a proof of performance for the initiative to the Summit Board of County Commissioners, hoping to gather support from county officials to help expand the program.

While officials were largely sympathetic to the struggles of some of the county’s homeless population and said they would be willing to look into ways to collaborate, they also noted that they were hesitant to commit any support for the program, citing legal concerns.

“I’m so incredibly impressed with the thoughtfulness and execution of this, and in a very safe way,” Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “We know there’s a great need out there, and we’ve been frankly kind of afraid of this. … Because there are a lot of issues around our existing codes, liability issues, restricted opportunities in terms of properties — we’re always looking for more space for everything. So there are a lot of concerns.”

The program began as a pilot in the parking lot of a local church, providing a safe space for individuals from the county’s working homeless community to sleep. To be eligible, individuals must be employed in the county and go through an application process, which includes a questionnaire, signing a community respect agreement and paying a small monthly fee.

And while both organizers and pilot participants lauded the program as a success since its launch in July, stakeholders are anxious to begin expanding to better meet the needs of the working homeless community in the area.

“These are folks who support our community but who struggle to pay rent,” Interfaith Council President Diane Luellen said, noting that the homelessness problem is affecting individuals from all sectors of the community, from lift operators to nurses. “These are the respectable, hard-working locals that find themselves living in their cars trying to get a good night sleep so they can do their jobs without making mistakes that could endanger life and limb.

“This pilot program has worked. But the slopes are open, and our one parking lot is getting full. It won’t be enough to accommodate all those who need a safe, secure place to park their cars so they can get a good night of sleep. Our workforce needs more places to safely park while they work and wait for their time to climb the housing ladder. Churches cannot do this alone.”

During the presentation Tuesday, organizers provided county officials with a “proof of performance” packet, which included a number of testimonials from pilot participants, organizers at the church and community leaders attesting to its success and calling for an expansion, including Family & Intercultural Resource Center Executive Director Brianne Snow, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons and the Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement Executive Director Joseph Zanovitch.

Some participants of the program also arrived to speak in person, including Randy George, who moved to Summit County in September and took the opportunity to talk about how important it is for working homeless individuals to save money in preparation of gaining permanent housing in the future.

“I set a goal that by summertime, I’ll have enough money, if I can tough out the winter, and that I’ll be able to have a place by that time,” said George, noting that even saving can be difficult without a set address to open a P.O. Box or bank account. “But I have to set a certain amount of money aside each month, and I have to keep my bills to an absolute minimum. … This is the struggle I’m going through. But this has helped me, and I’m grateful.”

Other community members also spoke at the hearing, calling on county officials to take action on the problem and take the pressure off the local faith community to provide services for homeless individuals in the county.

“We have a program for homeless people at our church,” Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church Pastor Liliana Stahlberg said. “Some that would never qualify for this program. That’s why we take care of them. But I want you to understand that this is a community problem, and it’s not a church problem. This is something that Summit County has to deal with. We can help, but we can’t be the primary parking lot providers.”

Ultimately, while the county commissioners didn’t make any commitments, they did voice that they were optimistic there would be ways to potentially collaborate and seek solutions with stakeholder in the program.

“I agree that we need to figure out the right people in our organization to start working with you,” Commissioner Thomas Davidson said. “Karn is right, there are some things that we need to be careful about. But I believe we can figure out a way that we can collaborate without opening ourselves to liability and other big issues.”

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