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“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

A small group of committed people have come together in Chaffee County to figure out how to best help community members who are experiencing homelessness. This group, calling themselves the Chaffee County Homeless coalition, was initially brought together by County Commissioner Keith Baker and an Area Manager from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, in response to the growing number of people in our county who are living in places not meant for permanent habitation. The overarching goal of the coalition is to establish an intervention to homelessness in Chaffee County that is appropriate for, and supported by, Chaffee County communities.

How big is the issue of homelessness Chaffee County? That is a difficult question to answer. I have not been able to find documentation demonstrating that Chaffee County has ever participated in the national Point in Time count, an effort initiated by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, resulting in the official source of census data about homelessness. In our state, this effort is coordinated by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and this year, due to the efforts of the Chaffee County Homeless Coalition, the Chaffee Community Resource Center is participating in the Point in Time count, collecting data on clients they serve who are currently experiencing homelessness.

The results of their effort will be valid, albeit under-represented, census numbers which our community can use in planning for homeless service provision, community outreach and education, and fundraising. This effort will not only help bring more resources to our county, but will also allow the Chaffee County Homeless Coalition to engage in the statewide conversation about homelessness and learn from successful endeavors in other locations within our state. Next year, we hope to partner with entities in the northern end of Chaffee County to increase participation in this valuable national annual event.

While the Chaffee County Homeless Coalition is still in its infancy, some big accomplishments have already occurred. Within the Caring and Sharing building in Salida, a Code Blue shelter has been opened for this winter. The goal of a Code Blue shelter is to provide a safe place for a person to sleep while protected from exposure to the elements, avoiding frostbite, hypothermia, or potentially death. Presently, the Code Blue shelter offers overnight shelter for up to 10 men and will provide a hotel room for women and children. The accommodations are meager, merely mats and bedding on the floor, but it is a welcome respite to the bitter cold of winter. Caring and Sharing plans to keep this operation open through the rest of this cold season, while working with the coalition to find a more appropriate and permanent solution for the future.

The Chaffee County Homeless Coalition is a grassroots initiative, still in its infancy. Participants include representatives from Public Health, Solvista Health, Human Services, HRRMC, the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, the faith-based community, and other concerned citizens. We are working to form committees, and would welcome additional participants willing to offer their time, talents, and treasures.

If you are interested in more information, please contact Becky Gray at bgray@chaffeecounty.org.

Becky Gray
Chaffee County Director of the Office of Housing