Help for the homeless

Action group meeting draws large crowd of organizations, individuals ready to assist

At a standing room-only meeting Wednesday morning, Homeless Youth Action Group leaders got the type of response they expected from the community.

"This is what we were hoping for -- the community to come together and rally around a problem," Beckey Grabowski said.

Grabowski, who moved to Craig in October and became a specialist with the School to Work Alliance Program, quickly identified an underserved homeless population of Moffat County High School students.

Since then, she and SWAP coordinator Delaine Voloshin have provided those students -- there currently are 14 -- with food, shelter and toiletries, thanks to local agencies' support.

Representatives from those agencies, and several others, attended the meeting Wednesday to help find a solution to Moffat County's homeless youth situation. The group of about 35 attendees also included church youth pastors, law enforcement officers, concerned residents, and Moffat County School District and Colorado Northwestern Community College representatives.

"Each one of you is an expert in what you do," Grabowski said.

She hopes to draw on the services offered by each organization represented to form a network of assistance for Craig's homeless youths.

"I really don't have a solution," Grabowski said. "I wish I had a magic wand."

Long-term solution?

The participants agreed, however, that they need to form an immediate response plan for emergency situations and develop long-term goals.

Evelyn Tileston, director of Independent Life Center, committed to researching grant sources for homeless youth projects. She thinks the group should designate a homeless coordinator, someone who the youths can trust and respect.

"It's long-term, but that's what needs to be done I think," Tileston said.

Moffat County High School Principal Jane Krogman said the group needs to be conscious of youths' lifelong needs -- that students do not become dependent on the services, and that adults involved help them become self-sufficient.

"I want to be able to lift them onto their feet, and then have them stay on their feet," Krogman said. "We can't live forever."

Grabowski said one of the largest hurdles has already been cleared -- identifying homeless youths.

Couch surfers

Debbie Gannon has invited her sons' friends into her home for six years. She has a basement that's rarely used and still cooks large meals every night. Anybody who needs a place to stay goes to her house.

She doesn't consider them homeless.

"They're my kids," Gannon said. "It's like our extended family."

Craig's homeless youths often "couch surf," or sleep on sofas, futons or floors of anyone who will let them, Grabowski said.

But the Colorado Depart-ment of Education defines "homeless" as someone without a permanent residence.

Christine Villard, director of student services for the school district, said Title X has been in place to provide educational services for homeless youths for some time. But the Craig youths who are defined as homeless have not been identified as that in the past.

"We've had these kids but we never considered them homeless," Villard said. "But by the federal definition, they are."

Participants at Wednesday's meeting said that now the community is aware of the problem, they need to work together to provide for the youths. More importantly, participants said, is developing a strong relationship with the youths so they trust the adults who are assisting them.

"When you come to someplace and you feel like you fit in, and you don't fit in anywhere else, that's a good thing," Gannon said. "They need someone to say, 'It's OK. As bad as you feel now, we can do something.'"

The next Homeless Youth Action Group meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Feb. 28. The place is yet to be determined.

For more information or to get involved, call Delaine Voloshin at 824-3246.

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or mperry@craigdailypress.com.

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