Kelli and Brian Udovich were living and sleeping in their jeep for two weeks in July before they landed on their feet and got into an apartment sponsored by Love INC.

Photo by Erin Fenner

Kelli and Brian Udovich were living and sleeping in their jeep for two weeks in July before they landed on their feet and got into an apartment sponsored by Love INC.

Homelessness in Craig is a growing issue

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Kelli and Brian Udovich sit in the apartment Love INC provided to them while they work to find a place of their own.

The morning sun can heat up the inside of a vehicle quickly. It made sleeping hard for Kelli and Brian Udovich. The married couple moved out of their home in July, pursuing a job opportunity in Craig. The job didn’t work out, and they didn’t know in time to keep their home in Delta — so they found themselves homeless, living in their car.

“You have a home and then you have nothing. It’s the hardest thing in the world,” Kelli Udovich said.

The Udovichs spent two weeks sleeping cramped into the front of their Jeep, parking at hospitals and department stores with only their essential clothes packed in the back along with a couple boxes of food.

“You can’t clean yourself. No showers. You can’t buy food to prepare. You can’t sleep. You wake up with the sun,” she said.

Currently, Craig doesn’t have a homeless shelter, and resources are limited.

Yet, the Udovichs were saved from long-term homelessness by help from Love INC. The organization draws resources from a conglomeration of churches that gathers donations to aid people who need emergency housing, among other things.

Love INC put them up in an apartment that the organization rents out for people who need housing for a month or two. Now they are both working and will have enough money to get their own apartment by Brian Udovich’s next paycheck.

But Love INC can only help so many people, and homelessness is starting to become a visible problem throughout the city, said Craig Police Sgt. John Forgay.

“It’s probably a growing issue. Five years ago, in Craig alone, we didn’t see people on the streets. We saw transients but not people who stuck around,” he said.

The issue became much more real after the body of a homeless man was found July 31 on the east side of Craig.

Michael Fedinec, 52, was discovered under a bridge next to the O.P. Bar & Grill. He died of natural causes. Forgay said he can identify at least six other homeless people who are living in town.

“The sad part is that most the population has the theory that (homeless people should) just go get a job, but you have to look deeper,” he said.

Leslie Stark, who has been homeless for two months in Craig, said he is lucky to have lost his job when he did; at the beginning of summer rather than in the middle of a harsh winter. These days, he's sleeping on a bench.

“It hasn’t been that cold,” he said.

Stark, unlike the Udovichs, has been living in Craig most of his life. He tries to keep to himself, and while he gets food assistance from many restaurants in town, he doesn’t want to name them.

“They’d be embarrassed,” he said, adding that he wishes there were more services available.

“There are none for housing,” he said. Locals "don’t know how many people transition through homelessness in Craig. I’ve known many people who’ve been homeless. It’s not a permanent position.”

Forgay said homelessness in Craig is reflective of the stagnant economy and misconceptions need to be challenged.

“I know people around Craig are aware of the people who are homeless. They tend to stay away from them. I think it’s an automatic reaction,” he said. “The general public usually looks down on this population with disdain. There has to be better awareness.”

Options for help

With help from organizations like Love INC, those who struggle have an option.

“People call in and share their needs with us. We look for sources of help,” said Patricia Jones, executive director of Love INC.

Jones said she has seen more need this year than ever before, helping 10 to 15 people per month find housing, get a bus ticket to a town with a shelter or connect with family members.

“I think some of the town doesn’t pay enough (wage) for people to pay rent,” she said. “You have to have the chunk of money to get started.”

That chunk includes rent, a deposit, utilities, grocery money and often other unpredictable costs, Jones said.

“That ends up being more money than people have,” she added.

While there are organizations like Love INC and the Community Budget Center, that seek out emergency housing for people in need, there isn’t a shelter for people who are dealing with long-term homelessness.

“It would be different if we had a homeless shelter so they could have supervision and some, for lack of a better word, comfort,” Forgay said. “They sleep in Dumpsters. They sleep under bridges. They sleep behind stores. It’s not a pleasant thing. These are not places for people to go.”

One of Jones’ dreams is to set up a shelter through Love INC, she said, adding that one of the challenges to opening a shelter, besides finding the funds to do so, is the pushback from the community.

“We know that if you build one, they will come, but we don’t think that’s a bad thing,” she said. “That was one of the gaps in the services provided.”

The insight and forethought of organizations like Love INC can help curtail desperate times for those in need, which in some cases is better than nothing.

Kelli Udovich said the little help Love INC provided was substantial.

“They bring us food when we need it,” she said they also provide cleaning supplies, which helped the couple save money. “Their whole goal is to help us be self-sufficient.”

Having access to that sort of emergency housing made it possible for them to bounce back, Brian Udovich said.

“Without (Love INC), I don’t know what we would have done. It scares me,” he noted.

Craig still has a ways to go to address the problem, Forgay said.

“It’s part of the times. It’s affected urban areas, it’s slowly affecting Craig,” he said. “We kind of wonder why people even chose Craig. We’re surprised to see people in the winter. There’s just not a lot of resources.”

Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.

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