Opinion | Susan Knopf: Finding shelter for the houseless in Summit
Houseless. It can sound like freedom to some, who yearn for the open road. But for others, it’s a feeling of being frightfully untethered. It’s all too common among service industry workers here in Summit County. What do you do when your job pays $14 an hour? You sure as heck can’t afford your own apartment. So you might try tripling — or quadrupling — up. That’s two people in each bedroom in a two-bedroom apartment costing more than $2,000 per month. Four strangers in an apartment? How long do you think that’s gonna’ last? The next thing you know, you’re living in a car.
Summit County isn’t the only place this is happening. It’s happening all across the country. Sometimes it’s medical bills or divorce that forces people out of housing. Sometimes it’s retirement. They wind up houseless. The Summit Colorado Interfaith Council is working to address the issue starting with safe overnight parking. It then hopes to identify basic shelter for working folks in Summit County who just need a roof and some dignity.
Join the conversation at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 14, at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge. The Interfaith Council will screen several short films focusing on the economic struggle to find shelter. You’ll be surprised who is homeless. Today, more and more, it’s families with kids.
In one clip screening Sunday, Ann Curry, reporting for NBC’s Rock Center, says more than 1 million school kids are homeless. People with college degrees, who owned homes and 401(k) plans, are now houseless, trying to keep families together in shelters.
The president seems to have just noticed the issue. In a Tucker Carlson interview that aired Monday, July 1, on Fox, the president called homelessness “a phenomenon that started two years ago.” He went on to say, “It’s disgraceful. … Police officers are getting sick by walking the beat. … You can’t ruin our cities. … It’s the liberal establishment. … It’s a terrible thing. … We may do something. … We have to do something. … We’re really not very equipped as a government to be doing that kind of work. That’s not really the kind of work the government should be doing. We’ve never had this in our lives before.”
Apparently, the president missed the homeless living on the streets of New York. I visited New York City in the 1970s, and unsheltered people were everywhere, as they are today.
For the record, according to a U.S. government publication, the term was first coined in the 1870s to describe tramps.
“When I saw homelessness, I saw a bum. Now … I see my reflection,” Darlene, one of the people interviewed by Ann Curry, says.
A school child in the Curry piece described the shame of going to school and not telling anyone she lives in a church shelter, moving each week to a new shelter. Another film shows a woman my age with a Master of Business Administration who used to make $200,000 a year but now lives on food stamps. She takes in a boarder but still can’t pay her mortgage without help of friends. It’s the new face of housing insecurity.
In these films, many report the old jobs just didn’t come back after the Great Recession. And shockingly, one film reports peak earnings are occurring when people are in their 40s with wages tapering toward retirement. That fuels a new emerging class of houseless, working-class folks, who have aged out of their work and now work part-time or not at all.
Here in Summit County it’s not the ski bum living in a car. Folks lacking shelter are the clerks at the convenience store, recent graduates trying to get a full-time job, ski instructors and a myriad other service people we all depend on to keep our local economy humming.
Drop by Sunday evening at CMC and check out the last film clip about Austin, Texas, housing people in an unconventional way. It may be something to try here in Summit. And remember, you see people every day who are economically struggling — you just don’t realize they are houseless.
Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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