Local officials work on state homelessness

Homeless people live on the asphalt jungle of the streets because they're too lazy to work. Homeless people sleep outside because they're drug addicts.

Homeless people are homeless because they want to be.

One Craig native is working working on a statewide project to displ these myths and accurately identify Colorado's number of homeless residents. And, she said, these misconceptions hinder the public's interest in helping to curb the growing problem of homelessness.

"A lot of people just don't want to see the whole issue," said Heather (Blair), Meyer, a 1997 graduate of Moffat County High School and the homeless coordinator for Larimer County. "They tend to think of it as something that affects 'those people.'

"Even in the cases where a person is true to stereotypical form, he/she is still a person and has something within (them) that is loveable, though society has long given up on that person."

Meyer said, a majority of homeless people are either disabled or are working poor. Here's the most alarming statistic of all figures related to homelessness, she said:

Children represent a large number of the homeless population. Their average age: 9 years old.

Meyer and Marie Peer, director of Moffat County Department of Social Services, are two officials in Colorado who are working on the first statewide effort in 18 years to count homeless people.

The goal of the project, sponsored by the Colorado Inter--agency Council on Homeless--ness, a committee appointed by Gov. Bill Owens, is to get an accurate count of the state's homeless population, learn the demographics and determine trends.

The project includes visiting state agencies that will work with the homeless on Aug. 28 and 29 to survey them about their situation. Officials working on the project will also visit parks and other locations that double as harbors for the destitute.

For Meyer, the words of Mother Teresa sum up why she wants to help the homeless. Meyer used the words on a campaign flier to raise awareness.

"We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless," the late humanitarian said. "The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty."

Meyer, the former homeless outreach and housing coordinator for the Larimer Center for Mental Health, has eschewed more lucrative work to be an advocate.

"It can be depressing if you let it, but if I or others were to let that be the end all, people would continue to be homeless," she said.

Information from the homeless project will be used to apply for government money for programs involving the impoverished. As an incentive for taking the survey, homeless residents will be given gift cards.

Peer, who's been with Social Services since 1969 and has served as director since 1996, is spearheading the Moffat County effort to identify the homeless.

There is no data about how many people are homeless in the county, she said.

"Every now and then, we become aware of someone who doesn't have a place to live, but there is not an organization to figure that out," Peer said. "There could be people that this organization doesn't know about."

The upcoming dates in August to count the homeless will be a good place for the county to begin controlling the area's homeless numbers, she added.

"If there is one, it will be good to learn about and how to go about addressing it," Peer said.

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