When the automobile carrying a family of four from California broke down in Steamboat Springs last week, a safety net already was in place to help them resume their journey.
Larry Oman, pastor at United Methodist Church, said the family had a job in California, but it wasn't enough to meet their needs. To improve their situation, they were moving to Iowa to be closer to family and to enjoy a lower cost of living. Everything was fine until the car broke down -- the repair bill was going to exhaust their travel fund, leaving them with nothing for gasoline.
The solution was straightforward, LIFT-UP of Routt County's, David Freseman said. Law enforcement officers here are equipped with vouchers intended for such a situation. They allow stranded travelers and homeless people who are in jams to go to participating businesses and use the vouchers to right their ships, at least temporarily.
The California couple and their two young daughters were able to obtain food and a night's lodging. They received a voucher for gas to send them on their way to waiting family in Iowa.
The vouchers can be used for a variety of things, Freseman said. Had the California family's car been beyond reasonable repair, they might have been offered bus tickets.
Sgt. Rich Brown of the Steamboat Springs Police Department said the voucher program helps patrol officers handle emergencies.
"We have quite a few requests for them throughout the year," Brown said. He pointed out that people in need must go to the police station to fill out an application to ensure they meet LIFT-UP's criteria.
The vouchers are backed by the Community Care Fund, which is administered by LIFT-UP and funded primarily by area churches.
The face of homelessness in Steamboat Springs differs from the stereotype of large urban areas. Permanent homeless residents are the rarity here, particularly in winter. Transients who come here looking for work quickly find that even the most basic housing isn't feasible, Oman said.
Those people often are candidates for a voucher good for a bus ticket to Denver, Oman said. But he was quick to point out that isn't the same thing as Steamboat coping with homelessness by shipping out individuals. There are agencies in Denver that are better equipped to help people get vocational training and back on their feet, he said.
For example, Oman said, Urban Ministries in Denver provides clients with voice mail so they can receive return calls from potential employers. Oman's congregation supports Urban Ministries.
"What we do here, and in other towns around Colorado, is send people to Denver," Oman said. "But it's important that we recognize we have a responsibility" to support the agencies on the Front Range that lend such assistance to those people.
The recent soup and bread supper hosted by the Methodist Church contributes to the fund. And the Wednesday ecumenical worship service at Concordia Lutheran, involving as many as a half-dozen congregations, raised $750 for the fund.
Still, on the eve of the twelfth month of the year, the program has exceeded the budget for 2003 of $3,500.
"So far, we've spent $3,800, and we still have December to go," Freseman said. The budget shortfall doesn't mean the Community Care Fund won't continue assisting indigent people for the balance of 2003. The fund is a nonrestricted account, meaning Freseman's organization can dip into its general fund to cover the expenses.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Community Care Fund may call LIFT-UP at 870-0727.
-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205
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