Being homeless is one of the darkest experiences a human being can have; emotionally, it can be like being lost at sea at night, in the middle of a winter storm. A lighthouse, leading the way to safety and shelter, would be a welcome sight in that situation.
Fortunately for the dozens of homeless people in the Montrose area, the Montrose Lighthouse Ministry is trying to help. This is a brand new organization, which is an outgrowth of the Montrose Jail Ministry.
Jail ministers realized that many inmates newly released from the Montrose County Jail ended up living on the street, or along the banks of the Uncompahgre River. They decided to do something about it, and the Lighthouse Ministry is the result.
Chris Hauck is one of the founders, and has been working as a jail minister in Colorado and Kansas for decades. Hauck said that many inmates and homeless people share a common problem. Seventy percent of prison inmates have mental health issues, and “The homeless population is probably more intensely affected by mental health problems.”
So how many homeless people do we have? “There are a large number of people who don’t sleep under a roof at night in Montrose County,” Hauck said. “Jim Renfrow took an informal census, under bridges before the winter, and counted 44.”
The Lighthouse Ministry has found some temporary overnight shelter for some of these folks. It’s being provided by farmer John Harold, of Olathe Sweet Corn fame, according to Hauck. “Right now, we take a van with 8 to 10 people a day out to John’s farm workers dorm, in Olathe. There is room for more but others who know of this shelter prefer not to go there.
“There is a segment of that population who are ‘professional homeless’. If they had a choice for shelter, they would not take it. They’d rather sleep under the snow. That probably connects with mental health disabilities,”
Hauck explained. “We do have some rules—no drugs, no alcohol, and you have to bathe at least twice a week. I think the regimentation is more than some people can handle. But to not offer an alternative to sleeping in sub-freezing temperatures is inhumane, I think”.
Harold is allowing Lighthouse free use of his 48 bed farm workers’ dormitory. “He fills it up during his corn harvest season, and right now he has some Mexican workers who are permitted to be here to help him with his onion harvest,” said Hauck. “So there are 17 worker in there, and we have three rooms available, that is, twelve beds. So we take a van from MADA (Mexican American Development Association) to Olathe every night, and bring ’em back to MADA in the morning.”
Now the Lighthouse Ministry is trying to create an overnight homeless shelter in Montrose itself. Hauck explained that decision. “Well, the matter came to a head when an encampment of homeless was established on the property that is going to be developed by Mayfly Outdoors. And it happened to be right at the entry point to that property. It was more or less tolerated by the city for awhile. But, when the time came for Mayfly to start introducing business prospects to that riverside piece of land, we had an immediate problem of what to do with those people. ”
Mayfly is moving its corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility to Montrose. It will be located on 158 acres along the Uncompahgre River, and will be an industrial, business, retail, and residential project.
The land is near the MADA building. ” MADA offers a couple of meals a day per week, and showers and a laundry” but they are not an overnight shelter, Hauck explained. “With this peaking into a crisis, we got temporary permission during freezing weather to use the MADA facility for shelter.”
Lighthouse Ministries has not yet decided exactly where, or how, to set up a shelter in Montrose. “It’s impossible to say whether a single purpose homeless shelter would be the best way to go for Montrose,” said Hauck.” So, we’re looking at the possibility of getting another ag dorm, because John is at his limit for spaces. One possibility that we are going to explore is to either re-build, re-purpose, or renovate an existing building that would also suit John’s needs and be closer to Montrose.” They do not have a specific building in mind. “No, but we’re looking. We had a meeting with the Olathe and Montrose officials, and it was agreed that Montrose would help us look for a long-term facility here.” The city is also giving Lighthouse some money to transport and situate people at the Harold dorm.
The Montrose Monitor asked, “If money were no object, what kind of facility would you like to have in Montrose?” Hauck replied, “Well, the problem is, if you put a homeless person in a real comfortable situation, like a nice motel room with a warm bed, a TV and a microwave, they don’t want to leave. They don’t want to go out and look for work. It’s like they’re on vacation from being homeless. It’s known that having a really, really nice facility is not a really, really nice idea. So, it’s not necessarily a question of money.” They want something that is both functional and motivational.
“Ideally, the facility would be winter-only, and would have some other purpose so it wouldn’t be an inefficient use of money. Another dorm, like the existing one in Olathe, would be a good compromise, I think. So that’s one possibility. Another would be a modular, tiny house on a piece of land somewhere, that could be used by homeless in the non-winter months.”
Hauck says it’s too soon to estimate how long it might take to get this set up.