‘We’re stuck in politics’: County commissioners and Housing Alliance meet to discuss concerns
Moffat County Commissioners met with representatives of the Housing First Alliance of Craig to discuss a public letter that was addressed to the Alliance at a commissioners meeting earlier this month. The Alliance responded to the letter with their own correspondence regarding concerns addressed in the commissioners’ letter.
“We need to make sure we’re moving in the right — and same — direction,” Commissioner Tony Bohrer said at Thursday’s meeting.
In the commissioners’ letter, the board alleged that the Alliance provided false or misleading information regarding whom the shelter would serve. According to the application for the grant intended to fund the homeless shelter, the shelter may not turn away individuals, which would contradict past sentiments that the shelter would only be for Moffat County families. That statement, executive director of the Alliance Hannah Wood says, was preliminary language from March and does not represent the status of the shelter’s present plans.
“The decision by the joint boards to change the focus from individuals to families was based on guidance we heard from (the commissioners) and the Craig City Council about the need for data supporting our plan,” the Alliance’s response letter reads. “We were unable to gather sufficient data to support the need for housing homeless individuals so the shift to families happened on March 26 after research supported the need with 13 homeless families identified at that time.”
Wood said the Alliance has identified 27 people total that are currently unhoused. These families are either living on friends’ couches, in vehicles or in a hotel.
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Commissioners expressed frustration with the Alliance about failed attempts to meet with them before their letter was presented. Bohrer, whose church ministry has worked to create resources for struggling families in the community, said that he and the other commissioners did not agree to work with directors of HomewardBound of the Grand Valley, who cosigned the response letter from the Alliance.
“It’s not just Hannah anymore doing this,” Commissioner Melody Villard said Thursday. “And so I wasn’t able to talk you into coming in and visiting with us. I did call you afterwards and let you know what the frustration was. It was our opportunity to kind of visit with you a little bit and give you a heads up about what the direction was. I think all of the meetings and all of the discussion that we’ve had, we have not come around to solutions.”
Wood added that though the shelter has a low barrier to entry, it does not have a low barrier to remain at the shelter. Shelter staff can create guidelines that must be followed by those who live in the shelter, a common concern among residents who oppose the shelter’s existence. She assured the commissioners that the shelter would only be used by Moffat County families, and Wood said it is not common for unhoused individuals to agree to move long distances to live in a shelter.
“There are rules and guidelines to follow,” Wood said. “Because we have families — the last 27 people that we are talking about — none of them want to relocate to Grand Junction.”
According to the grant’s regulations, the Alliance cannot buy property, only rent. The money cannot be used for “rapid housing” either, meaning the Alliance can not just give out grant money to pay rent for those in the community who are at risk of being evicted.
“You can’t even buy property with that (funding),” Bohrer said. “You can only lease and fix something up that’s owned by some government agency, right? So to me — and I said this in our emails — that I think sometimes the strings attached to a dollar amount are not worth that dollar amount.”
Another prospect that came up in the meeting was the possibility that rooms in the former Elk Run Inn — which has been recently sold and rumored to be eventually turned into apartments — could be used by the Alliance to house families, instead of one singular location that houses multiple families.
“In the future, what safeguards do we have to continue to help people that are right here — that we’re trying to help?” Villard said. “We’re stuck in politics instead of helping.”
Commissioners argued that hotel rooms would be a more comfortable living situation for families, but Wood said that the money they have received must be used for a physical shelter or hotel vouchers, and most hotels in town have policies against renting to those who live locally.
“I haven’t even gone to the hotels to say, ‘How many days are you willing to rent to us?’ because I’m scared of what they’re going to say,” Wood said. “Because of all the venom on Facebook, and then the letter that came out, it just seems like we have nobody right now. It just seems like the catastrophizing, monstrous ‘What If’s’ have taken over the narrative, instead of ‘What can we do to help?’”
The commissioners and the Alliance agreed to meet in the future, but a date for that meeting wasn’t set.
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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.