Summit County homelessness program expands as demand rises

Randy Devaney poses for a portrait in his van, which serves as his residence, while parked at The Church at Agape Outpost as part of the Unsheltered in Summit program in Breckenridge on Nov. 27, 2020. The program is opening a second location at the Summit County Justice Center to serve more people.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

After experiencing growing demand, Unsheltered in Summit, a program that allows people living out of their cars to legally park at designated lots overnight, is expanding to Breckenridge.

For the past two years, the program has operated out of The Church at Agape Outpost parking lot off Colorado Highway 9 near Summit High School. On Feb. 8, the Breckenridge Town Council unanimously passed an amendment to its camping ordinances on second reading, allowing for the program to add an additional location: the Summit County Justice Center parking lot.

Program participants will be able to start using the lot March 1, said Diane Luellen, who is the chair of the program’s committee at the Summit Interfaith Council. Participants are required to apply for the program, show proof of employment and pay a fee of $45 per month in order to park overnight.

Typically, people who live out of their cars can be found parking at trailheads or in business parking lots overnight, which is illegal. They’ll often wake up to a police officer tapping on their window and informing them they can’t sleep there. Unsheltered in Summit gives participants a permit that they place on their dashboard, informing law enforcement that they are allowed to park at one of the designated lots from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.

“We’d like to offer it to as many people as are interested,” Luellen said. “We know that it is safer, and they can get a better night’s sleep.”

Because the Justice Center is the first location that falls within the town of Breckenridge, the Town Council had to pass the ordinance to allow it to operate. The new town code allows for Town Manager Rick Holman to authorize camping for a specified period.

Luellen said she’s seen demand for the program grow over the past few years. The number of people sleeping at either lot at one time is capped at 10. Recently, the program started placing more advertising and, within 24 hours, received seven phone calls from interested people, Luellen said.

The idea of the program is to be a temporary solution for people struggling with homelessness in the county. Luellen said the employment requirement is there to ensure that the program is supporting the county’s local workforce.

“If you’re working as a fry cook, a liftie or a mechanic and you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, it’s really hard to do your job safely,” she said. “Then it’s possible that you could put others at risk if you’re not well rested.”

Luellen said the program is intended to be a temporary and immediate solution for people experiencing homelessness. It doesn’t offer an indoor, heated location for people to sleep or other resources like food and clothing.

The program chair said she’d like to see more permanent solutions for homeless populations be considered by town and county leaders. She said she’s a fan of higher-density housing options that are more affordable for Summit County workers.

“We see ourselves as a way for people to sleep safely while they perhaps save money or find other ways that they can move themselves up so that eventually they can have regular housing,” she said. “We’re only a tiny part of the solution.”

The addition of the Breckenridge location will also help the program maintain its services over the summer. The Church at Agape Outpost plans to do construction over the summer months, Pastor Mike Atkinson said.

“It’s growing and growing; the need is growing, so the need for space is growing,” he said.

Luellen and Atkinson said the program will need to add a third lot in the near future to make up for the demand.

People who are interested in participating in the program can email or call 970-368-2204.

The Summit County Justice Center is pictured in Breckenridge. Its parking lot is the latest addition to the Unsheltered in Summit overnight parking program.
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