Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Being homeless brings daily challenges

Traveling around Chaffee County lately, you may have noticed:

  • A teepee set up for full-time living on the outskirts of town.
  • An Airstream parked in more than one backyard downtown, hooked up to electricity.
  • A tiny house on wheels plugged in on an expanse of land along a county road.
  • A fifth wheel with solar panels, unhitched and set up not too far from your favorite trailhead.
  • Tents and a blanket stretched across pallets, hidden under trees, just over the river at the base of Tenderfoot Mountain.

In each of these homes, you’ll find real people looking for real-life solutions to having a place to come home to every night. These same people are often faced with daily challenges that others with secure housing may have not considered:

Washing Up – Something as basic as finding a place to shower or bathe is often an obstacle to a dependable job, and subsequently, a home.

Charging up – A dead battery on a cell phone means someone who’s looking for a job or housing opportunity misses a call.

Registering – Did you know that state residents can’t use a P.O. Box to register or license a vehicle? Or for their driver’s license address?

Connecting – Free USPS mail service costs money for someone living in a trailer or tiny home on land that’s not their own, if they don’t have a true physical address because they’ll need to rent a post office box. For some this is one bill too many, and as a result, they can’t receive mail or packages – sometimes pertaining to something as significant as their health care.

Logging On – People living in the woods who may work remotely online may not be able to get a strong hot spot cell signal at home or have access to an internet provider. This means a trip to the library or spending money at a coffee shop in order to complete work.

Pet Care – A hot (or freezing cold) car, trailer, fifth wheel or teepee may not be the best place for a pet while its owner is away at work. Some argue that someone who is “low income” shouldn’t try to keep a pet because they clearly can’t afford it; but for many, a pet is family, and as such, is not optional.

While the number of people choosing alternative housing solutions may have increased in recent years, the reality that the county’s housing cost increases are not in line with current wages is hardly a new story.

Difficult to define as it may be, a need for affordable housing means there’s a disparity between the amount of money that is coming in day to day – even for those with a steady 40-hour per week, minimum wage job – and the amount going out monthly for housing and utility costs.

Arguably, the cost of living is higher in desirable Colorado mountain towns, and people make a choice to live here. But, just like in every other community in the U.S., there are lower-wage jobs that do not adjust as the cost of living rises. Yet we need those folks who willingly accept lower wages to remain within the community in order for the “village” to function. Therein lies the rub.

The Salida School District reported a 300-percent increase in known homelessness among their students from October 2016 to January 2017, yet they estimate the actual unreported numbers to be much higher. According to teacher Sue Ceglowski, there are several Horizons Exploratory Academy students who are not just homeless, but who are homeless without their families and are living in travel trailers just outside downtown Salida.

Buena Vista’s solution – Collegiate Commons – will open to residents later this summer on Arizona Street and will offer rent prices ranging from $695 for a one bedroom to $965 monthly for a three bedroom. The city of Salida is looking at the construction of Salida Crossings on U.S. Highway 50 as a possible solution, but the idea is being challenged. The county planning commission is reviewing zoning to determine whether RVs can be considered permanent housing, but the conversation is just in the beginning stages.

Meanwhile as discussions on both sides of the county’s affordable housing crisis continue, families and individuals in our midst toil each day with micro challenges that, on any given day, can feel insurmountable.

This is part two in a series of articles on the affordable housing dilemma in Chaffee County. The remaining articles will feature real-life stories about individuals living in the county who are personally facing housing challenges.

Previous article in this series:

A Place to Call Home, Part 1: Teacher struggles to find legal, affordable housing