Homelessness still a problem

Moffat County residents encouraged to support programs

— The phone calls started before the school year began.

The Moffat County public can be proud of itself for the effort made last year to support homeless children and teenagers, said Beckey Grabowski, Homeless Youth Action Group co-founder.

Unfortunately, regrettably and against her best hopes, problems still exist for local kids, she added.

"I think this year is going to be worse, and I hate saying that and I hope I'm wrong," Grabowski said. "The need this year has been phenomenal already, and it's only the beginning of the school year."

The Action Group started in January. Before that, Grabowski used the School to Work Alliance Swap program to find jobs for at-risk children.

By December, there were 11 high school students participating in Grabowski's programs, and by the end of the year, 22 minors received services from the Action Group.

Even though it's early in the school year, there are more kids getting referrals from school counselors and calling in on their own.

It's not just high school students, either, Grabowski said. The middle, intermediate and elementary schools have called for their students.

"It's kids across the spectrum this time," Grabowski said.

This time, housing is a bigger issue.

The Action Group placed a lot of kids at Columbine Apartments last year. But now, that complex has a two-year waiting list. Local hotels are near capacity all year long it seems like, and the housing and apartment market is almost beyond reach, Grabowski said.

"The lack of affordable housing in this town is phenomenal," she said. "It is almost impossible to find an apartment for less than $600 a month."

Most kids without a guardian end up living in their vehicles or moving from couch to couch. A big focus of the Action Group is to make sure youths sleep at safe places.

"The kids are not all perfect, they're kids," Grabowski said. "Most of them are kicked out (of their homes) and left to their own devices. Sometimes they sleep anywhere someone will let them."

Despite the struggle, once kids do find a permanent place to live they do start to live more normal lives, Grabowski said, citing her own experience.

"A lot of these kids work real hard to keep their jobs and pay rent," she said. "Unfortunately, many of them drop out of school. When your life is centered around buying food and paying rent, sometimes school takes a back seat."

Education does not take a back seat for Grabowski, however, who encourages everyone leaving high school to pursue his or her GED.

Going forward, Grabowski hopes Moffat County can do the same as last year. Andrew Johnson, Colorado Supportive Housing and Homeless Programs homeless youth coordinator, believes this area should be a model for rural Colorado, Grabowski said.

"He thinks Moffat County has a stellar program," she said. "Looking at the need out there, I think it's minimal at best."

Johnson supports the community for taking on its problems and not putting children into shelters, Grabowski said. Shelters are too expensive and too time-consuming to build to be effective in Moffat County, she added.

The Action Group plans to meet and have Johnson as a guest within the next month.

Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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