Opinion | Susan Knopf: Gimme’ shelter | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: Gimme’ shelter

Do you have a parking spot where someone could park their car and safely spend the night?

Kia Grant says her safe overnight parking place made a “world of difference “ to her. She used her van time to save money to get into housing.

Some Summit County workers spend the night in their cars. Some are proud seasonal workers, who like to share the ingenuity of their homes on wheels. Others like to keep their circumstances on the downlow.

For the record, this is a pet project of mine. Summit Colorado Interfaith Council runs the program.

The Summit Safe Parking Program will mark its third anniversary in July. Agape Outpost Chapel in Breckenridge, has hosted the program since its inception. For their own safety, parkers must vacate in May as Agape begins construction on a new employee housing project.

This month a new parking facility opened behind the Breckenridge Justice Center. Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons says the new lot is proving to be as successful and trouble-free as the Agape lot.

Most the overnight parking rules are similar, with one notable exception. Vehicles cannot exceed 18 feet. Three community members will not qualify, and the Interfaith Council wants to find them safe places to park.

I heard on the grapevine, at least one local town is prepared to step up, but they want to see the waiting list. There isn’t one. An Interfaith Council leader said they’ve been afraid to aggressively market the program just in case the demand exceeds the spaces available.

If you work in Summit County and you need a safe overnight parking place call 970-368-2204. There’s a community respect agreement to sign, and a small monthly fee that goes toward paying for a porta-potty, trash collection and other expenses.

The program has a few members who stick around, but most participants stay just a few months while they get housing arranged. It’s amazing how variable their stories are: a school teacher looking for a contract, a retail clerk in search of a roommate, a disabled person working part time to supplement disability income.

Point of Entry Person Doug Bair told me, “Clients consistently say we saved them from the agony and energy of finding places to park. Instead they can put their energies into advancing their employment and advancing their life goals.”

Kia Grant agrees.

“If we had a (parking) lot where people could keep their cars parked 24/7 we could better help people who have multiple jobs. Right now people have to vacate during the day,” said Bair.

I would love if the housing ladder didn’t begin in a car for so many locals, but the reality is, it does.

People who sleep in their cars, aren’t just passing through and enjoying our recreation. People sleeping in their cars are serving us drinks, teaching ski lessons and helping us in stores.

Frisco Town Councilperson Andy Aerenson said, “This is a sustainability issue. We have to maintain our workforce. …This is one of many ways we can help create a way for our workforce to live in our community.”

Grant said the Interfaith Council’s parking program made it possible for her to stay in Summit County. Today she’s working in marketing at a local real estate firm.

One local leader told me she thinks it’s shameful that we view cars as a first tier on the housing ladder. I’d rather address this issue than pretend it’s not happening. I know a lot of people in the ski industry who work here in the winter, and somewhere else in the summer. They think their lifestyle is pretty awesome.

Then there’s the real issue: the cost of housing. Bair said had he waited just six months to buy, he wouldn’t have been able to afford his home. Bair bought in 1993! He estimates his home has quintupled in value.

Then there’s just how easily you can slip out of your housing. All it takes is a roommate problem, and who hasn’t experienced that?

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