Many reasons, no easy solutions for Steamboat Springs homeless issue | SteamboatToday.com

Many reasons, no easy solutions for Steamboat Springs homeless issue

John F. Russell/Steamboat Today

Kate Nowak, who is the Routt County United Way executive director and the leader of the task force, talks with presenters Michelle Petix (right) and Heather Martyn before Tuesday night's meeting where members of the Housing Stability Task Force led an informative discussion about what the group learned since the group began addressing homeless issues in October of 2015.

As much as she wanted to, Kate Nowak couldn't offer the solution that would end homelessness in Routt County during a meeting Tuesday at Bud Werner Memorial Library’s Library Hall. But she did inform community members what the Housing Stability Task Force has discovered during a journey that began in October 2015.

"Every situation is different, every single situation," she said. "There are no two situations exactly the same. They all have different stuff going on — one is a job that doesn't start for three weeks, another one is a health issue, another one is a transient issue, another one is a domestic violence issue."

Those differences are one of the first things the task force discovered when it set out on its journey. It also discovered that, while each situation is different, those dealing with home instability problems could be organized into three groups: longterm adult residents, longterm juvenile residents and transients looking to put a roof over their heads as they move from one location to another.

The task force kept track of when each of the many organizations represented in the group — including the Steamboat Springs Police Department, the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife — came in contact with a person who was homeless through the course of the year.

Nowak, who serves as executive director of Routt County United Way and as task force leader, said she was surprised by the numbers.

Before the task force was formed, she said, she had been contacted by three local organizations who were looking for help dealing with a homeless situation.

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"I guess I expected the numbers to be a lot higher when she first started," Nowak said. "The number is still too large, but I think it's manageable in a community like ours."

The task force recorded 209 contacts with people in unstable housing situations during the year, including 77 men, 78 women and 63 children. Some were simply passing through, some were only homeless for a short period and others were children who had issues at home and preferred to couch-surf at friends’ homes.

Nowak said she expected those numbers to be concentrated in the shoulder seasons, but added the task force quickly learned the issues were more consistent from month-to-month than had been expected.

The good news is, the group also realized the community has a number of organizations to provide help to such people, ranging from schools and churches to organizations like Partners in Routt County, LiftUp of Routt County, Integrated Community, Mind Springs Health, Advocates Building Peaceful Communities and the Routt County Human Services Department. The task force created a single-page resource sheet to help guide people with housing issues to the resources that can help. The group has distributed the guide to local organizations and plans to post it on the Routt County United Way website in the coming weeks.

Many of the people who worked with the task force spoke to the issues Tuesday, including Vickie Clark, director of Routt County's Department of Human Services; Michelle Petix, executive director of Partners in Routt County; Heather Martin, who spoke about the churches’ role in the homeless community; and Sheila Henderson, who spoke about how the Reserves at Steamboat has helped open a new path for low-income residents looking for a safe place to live.

The task force also brought together community members, who offered ideas to address the many issues surrounding the homeless community. The task force looked into many of the proposed solutions, researching how other resort communities (including Durango and Summit County) are looking to find the answers. Some of those ideas might work in Steamboat, and if the homeless problem continues to expand, some might become a reality with time.

For now, the group is happy to address many of the issues, and according to Nowak, strengthen the web of services that are already setting a high standard for success.

"I believe that, in my time here, we do a pretty good job of taking care of most people that we run across that have issues with homelessness,” Nowak said. "There is a network in this community, and there are people willing to take people who can't put a roof over their head in for a temporary time or pay for a hotel room or do certain things to be sure that that person is cared for, particular in the winter. I would say we do a pretty darn good job."

Obviously, until Routt County can say the number of people living without a roof over their heads is zero, there is still work to be done.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966