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Michaelann Lee, a volunteer with the Chaffee County Homeless Coalition, discusses efforts to provide shelter for the homeless as other coalition volunteers listen Thursday, Dec. 27, at a town hall meeting at the Salida Community Center. From left are Chaffee County Director of Housing Becky Gray, Caring and Sharing Board Member Linda Gibas, Lee and retired Presbyterian minister Mike Orrill (photo by Joe Stone).

The Chaffee County Homeless Coalition held a town hall meeting Thursday, Dec. 27, in Salida to engage community members in efforts to provide shelter for homeless people during the winter.

Coalition volunteer Michaelann Lee organized the meeting and provided background information, noting that Chaffee County Commissioner Keith Baker had been instrumental in forming the Homeless Coalition along with AHRA Park Manager Rob White.

Lee said the coalition currently includes representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Chaffee County Department of Human Services, Chaffee County Public Health, the Chaffee County Housing Office, the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, Caring and Sharing, Solvista Health, Salida City Council and the Salida Police Department.

Caring and Sharing, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has agreed to establish a Code Blue shelter at its Community Resource Center “as a short-term intervention to address the immediate concern of cold weather exposure this winter,” Lee said.

She said Salida Fire Chief Doug Bess authorized an overnight occupancy of 10, and that the space will be for men only. The men will sleep on mats on the floor, and they will have to pass background checks for violent crimes and sexual offenses to gain access.

The Shelter will have a code of conduct that all of the men will have to read and sign, Lee said, and anyone who fails to abide by the code will lose access to the shelter. Also, a paid staff member be at the shelter and will coordinate daily with the Salida Police Department so that the police know if space is available.

Becky Gray, Chaffee County director of housing, reiterated that the shelter is an emergency short-term solution and that the coalition is also working to address long-term solutions, which will require planning, meetings and funding.

Gray said an official count has never been done for Chaffee County but that an estimated 80 homeless people live in Chaffee County year-round. Information gathered by the Salida School District indicates that 26 students and their families are homeless.

Gray also noted that “just doing nothing” to address homelessness costs the state of Colorado $20,000 per person per year. She said this includes the cost of homeless people intentionally getting arrested or exaggerating an illness in order to get food and shelter.

Since the Community Resource Center shelter is only a temporary solution, Gibas said that it would only operate until mid April when low temperatures are not life-threatening.

One town hall attendee suggested that recipients of this benefit should be asked to do volunteer work in exchange for shelter. Gibas and Lee indicated that is already happening.

Another attendee who lives near the Community Resource Center expressed concern about criminal activity from individuals served by Lighthouse Ministries at the center.

Gibas and Lee encouraged the man to contact the police, but when he expressed reluctance to do so, they encouraged him to contact Danielle Kirkland, resource center manager. Because she knows many in the local homeless population and they trust her, she can be a significant help.

Gibas also emphasized that Caring and Sharing owns the building but that Lighthouse Ministries is a separate organization.

Lee said the coalition will host another town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 3. She also noted that the next meeting of the Chaffee County Homeless Coalition is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, in the Shavano Room on the second floor of the Touber Building, 448 E. First St. in Salida.

Gray expressed hope that the conversation will continue over the upcoming year so that the community can begin to develop long-term solutions to the homeless problem.

Gibas said donations are always needed to help pay for hotel rooms for women and families and to get the shelter up and running. “We also need volunteers.”

To donate or learn more about volunteer efforts, she encouraged people to contact Caring and Sharing through the website – – or by phone, 539-4849.

Salida City Council members Dan Shore and Harald Kasper were among the twenty attendees at the meeting.