Summit County’s homeless face uncertainty amid closures
DILLON — Many throughout the area have lost access to everyday services due to sweeping closures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, though the closures are particularly difficult for members of the county’s homeless population.
Growing financial instability, more competition for basic needs and even being shut off from hygiene options has some in the community wondering what will come next.
“I sent out a mass text to check in with everybody,” said Raychel Kelly, founder of Good Bridge Community, who helped launch the county’s local overnight safe parking program. “Things happened individually but very quickly for everyone. People were getting their hours cut. Some got fired that day or were told they had a week. But ultimately, they lost their jobs way sooner than they were prepared for.”
With widespread loss of jobs throughout the population, Kelly said many already have left the county to find other opportunities. The overnight safe parking program, though small to begin with, has lost half its members in the past two days. And more are expected to leave to find work elsewhere.
For those sticking around, they’ve lost almost all of their resources for their everyday needs. The businesses they patronize during the day are all closed, as are the facilities they rely on for staying connected and healthy, like libraries and recreation centers.
“Since the rec centers closed, we’re not able to shower,” Kelly said. “The people with jobs need to shower. And the people who’ve lost their jobs need to shower to find a new one.”
While some have stepped in to help fill the need — such as The Church at Agape Outpost, which is offering shower and laundry services by appointment — more resources likely will be needed.
“Our homeless population is larger than most people imagine,” said Diane Luellen, founder of the Summit Colorado Interfaith Council. “A lot of them spend their time in coffee shops or places like that, and they can’t spend their time there anymore. Most take their showers at the recreation centers, and those are all closed. I think this could get to a real crisis situation as the weeks go on, and nobody has any place to be clean or to use restrooms.”
Both Kelly and Luellen said they’d like to see temporary housing options arranged for members of the area’s homeless population, such as opening up strictly regulated and subsidized hotel rooms, safely opening up some of the county’s vacant housing or even just expanding shower and laundry options throughout the community.
But in the meantime, Kelly said individuals who are homeless should prepare for the possibility of facing the new coronavirus in their current situations.
“You’re going to have to be prepared,” Kelly said. “You’re going to get sick, you’re going to have a fever. … Prepare with savings. Figure out what you’re going to need. Do you have water? Where are you going to be staying? Do you have a plan?
“If I get it, I’m going to probably go a couple miles outside of town, make sure I have everything I need, and isolate in my car. Because that’s the option I have.”
Kelly said that anyone interested in helping should continue to focus their efforts toward making sure that food distributions sites around the county are well-stocked. And as many in the community deal with the pressures of fulfilling basic needs for the first time, Kelly urged her fellow residents to be kind to one another.
“Stay positive,” she said. “In three years of dealing with this lifestyle, the key has been to stay kind and stay positive. It’s when people are fighting for basic needs where the ugliness can really come out. We don’t know what’s coming. We know people get scared, but if we stay kind and calm, we’ll be OK.”
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