Tensions rise at community meeting as potential homeless shelter location revealed
The former Furniture Gallery on Ranney could serve as site of family shelter
A meeting originally scheduled for 30 minutes lasted almost three hours after board members of the Housing First Alliance of Craig invited town business owners to open discussion about the homeless shelter set to open. In the meeting, executive director Hannah Wood confirmed that the Alliance was looking at the decommissioned former Furniture Gallery building at 385 Ranney Street as the shelter’s potential location.
In the shelter, families will live in “pods” created to house four people each, Wood said. Wood said the building would have 10 to 12 first-come, first-serve pods, but once those are filled, other individuals or families looking for temporary housing would be given hotel vouchers.
“We’re a family shelter, so that means the family unit could be a parent and parents, or child and children. The child or children is anyone that is school age,” Wood said. “So if they’re old enough or young enough to go to school here in Moffat County, then that would qualify them.”
However, in the shelter’s application for federal funding, the Alliance had written that individuals or families could use the facility, a fact that many citizens at the meeting opposed.
Wood said a final contract didn’t reflect that particular language, but she was not willing to share the contract document to those who attended the meeting.
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“Are we inviting people from out of town?” Wood said. “So the answer to that is: Of course, we created our project to serve our local folks — the people that are already here — and that have been experiencing homelessness for X amount of days, months, weeks (or) years.”
But, Wood said, the means by which the Alliance was being funded directed in some part its ability to put limits on whom they serve.
“Due to the funding that we’ve received, we can’t put preconditions on folks,” she said. “Preconditions look like signing something that says, ‘I promised to be sober. I promise to get drug tested. I promise that I’m from the county.’ I will not be saying, ‘Hey, Grand Junction. Hey, Steamboat. I have space, so you can send (a homeless person) over.’”
The Alliance can, however, apply guidelines and rules to residents once they enter the shelter, Wood said.
Kimberly Lindsey, a board member for the Alliance, said that the lack of preconditions is not going to create an environment that would hurt the children who lived there. The shelter would hire case managers and social workers trained to spot potentially abusive situations.
“Do we, as a community, catch everyone? Probably not,” Lindsey said. “But the best case scenario is for a family that is displaced — unhoused — to have a warm place to go. Case managers will be around to be able to see what’s going on.”
Many business owners, particularly those within a small radius of the shelter’s potential location, were upset about what some called a “lack of transparency” when it came to the shelter’s search for a space. RaChell Novacek, bartending manager of The Sizzling Pickle, which sits next door to the potential location, expressed concerns about how the shelter will affect her business.
“For us, one of the things that we’re very fearful of is (the location),” Novacek said. “We worked really hard to be where we are. Obviously, we’ve built a business here. Do we want to be the restaurant next door to the homeless shelter? Probably not. Many people we’ve been talking to are already turning their noses up at it, and that is going to present a huge problem for us.”
However, what business owners called a lack of transparency was what some more favorable attendees called a lack of engagement instead. City councilman Steve Mazzuca cited two town halls — open to the public — which very few citizens attended to express opinions.
“I’m frustrated because when we listened to community concerns, and we addressed it with them, they changed it from individuals to families,” Mazzuca said. “Then we had two more workshops. We had several more city council meetings, and I didn’t see anybody there. Nobody came and talked, then we had two more town halls. And we address the same concerns.”
Mazzuca added that the national housing crisis was not just an urban problem, but was affecting the Craig and Moffat County community, as well.
“This is not a homeless problem, it’s a housing problem,” he said.
Currently, Wood says the housing alliance has identified 13 families in need of more stable housing. Wood said they have varying severity of need, from living in cars to couch surfing.
The money to pay for the shelter comes from the federal CARES Act, a 2020 measure aimed at providing COVID-19 relief, totalling over $600,000. It will be used over the next two years. The money will go toward developing the building and paying salaries to six employees, including Wood.
If everyone present could agree on one thing, it was that there is no simple solution to the housing problem in Craig. Some business owners, balking at the use of federal funds, suggested they would be willing to help organize the building of subsidized or Section 8 housing.
Despite extending the time limit for the round table session, many questions remained unanswered. The Alliance said they would work to coordinate a second listening session in order to address more concerns brought up at the meeting. The date for the follow-up session was not determined Monday night.
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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:45 p.m. to include a response from the Bureau of Land Management’s national office.