Craig Press Editorial Board: Homeless shelter takes right idea and goes down the wrong road

Craig Press Editorial Board

Both sides of a contentious argument can hold a share of the facts at the same time.

That seems to be the case in this heated local debate regarding the proposed family homeless shelter.

Let’s examine some items we believe to be true.

First, it’s downright unacceptable for a community like ours to do nothing while as many as a dozen or more young people — Craig’s very own children — sleep in cars, out of doors, or on rotating couches. It’s simply not OK. We can’t be OK with it, and we can’t look the other way and allow it to happen.

If what Housing First Alliance of Craig says is true — and we don’t doubt them — and there are currently 13 families with children in our community without a home, that is just not going to be OK. We have got to stand up as a community and change this untenable situation.

Second, it is beyond laudable that the Alliance has identified a potential solution and is seeking to bring it to fruition. We are grateful for their passion, their compassion, and their enormous efforts to change this unacceptable reality. It’s not easy to make a change, and we’re proud we have community members who have such an outstanding heart for those who need help.

Third, it is eminently clear that this community fears creating a homelessness problem in a place that has long been closer to immune from the painful and seemingly unsolvable concern you see in places like Denver or even Grand Junction.

Fourth, the proposed model for the shelter doesn’t strike us as quite right for the people we all should agree we want to help. Kids and families need a semi-permanent space. They need their own bed. They need somewhere to put their stuff. They need somewhere to do homework. Bottom line: they need stability. They deserve it.

A shelter isn’t a permanent solution for a family or individual, but something that offers at least a hint of short-term stability is much more likely to lead to a positive long-term outcome. Not to mention, a location in the middle of town, like some of those suggested previously, doesn’t seem to offer a particularly private or discrete scenario for these folks as they look for lodging coming from school and work. They deserve more than that.

And fifth, we’re concerned that, in spite of the undeniably righteous desires of the Alliance, it doesn’t feel like the community has been a part of this effort. While the Alliance has held public meetings — to their credit — there hasn’t been as much listening and collaborating as we’d like to see.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that this effort cannot be accomplished without at least some community support, and the overwhelming sentiment has been the exact opposite. While we could look at that truth and say Craig must therefore be hateful and exclusionary, we know better. We know Craig cares. But it’s obvious that this is not the way Craig is willing to help its people.

So let’s talk about another way.

The Moffat County Commissioners Tuesday suggested that the Alliance turn down the grant. It seems crazy — who would just reject $600,000-plus dollars? But we actually agree with the commissioners here.

It’s clear that it’s terms of the CARES Act grant that are dictating the problems here. It’s because of the grant that the shelter must accept anyone regardless of familial status or county of residence. Those are terms that this community is unwilling to accept. It makes some sense; this federal grant is primarily tailored to big-city problems and big-city solutions. We don’t have the former, and we don’t need the latter.

So what else could we do? It starts with Craig, not the Alliance. It starts with Craig saying we’re heartsick at the revelation that we’ve allowed our children to sleep on the street, and we will not allow it to continue any longer. It starts with Craig coming together, as we know Craig can, and saying here’s a solution to this problem. It starts with Craig putting its collective money, time and efforts where its collective mouth is.

And then it comes down to the Alliance to take its positive momentum and then listen, collaborate, and adjust course. They have all the right intentions, but it’s hard to see this plan working. Do these kids and families really want a community that hates their presence? Or wouldn’t they rather have one that banded together, wrapped its arms around them and found a way, together, to put them back on a good path?

So, to everyone, we ask this: Open your minds, open your hearts, and be ready to open your checkbooks. We’ve got to find a solution. Even if it starts by recognizing that this isn’t it.

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