Homelessness – The View From Fort Collins

I know this is a well-used illustration and metaphor for lots of things, but it definitely fits.

This week, the Fort Collins Coloradoan published an extraordinary series of stories concerning the problem of homelessness in their area, as well as the remainder of Larimer County.


This comprehensive group of articles was written to coincide with the launch of the Homeward 2020 initiative in the Fort Collins metro area. Quoting from this group’s robust and highly informative website:

Homeward 2020 is:

  • A ten year plan to end homelessness in Fort Collins
  • An initiative of the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado
  • A collaborative project that will draw from leadership and wisdom all across the community
  • A very metric-driven, evidence-based, strategic approach
  • A community awareness piece for the face of homelessness as well as the educational, economic and legal cost housing instability has on the community
  • A foundational mind-set shift from supporting the homeless on an agency level to ending homelessness on a jurisdictional level
  • Ultimately about Fort Collins having a rapid, easily accessible network of prevention assistance, affordable housing, and wrap- around support services that will make homelessness rare, short-lived, and non-recurring.

The Coloradoan’s series includes some forays outside their local area as well. One story is an assessment of Denver’s Road Home, the 10-year plan to end homelessness in Metro Denver that’s about 4 years old now.

Of significant local interest is a detailed and comprehensive overview of the current state of affairs regarding homelessness in Grand Junction. Reporter Bobby Magill (formerly of the Daily Sentinel) interviewed several of the key players on both sides of the debate, providing a view of the situation in GJ with the eyes and ears of someone familiar, while making it accessible to the front range reader uninitiated in the ways of “River City”.

The story also reported on the local efforts to develop a 10-year plan to end homelessness, and what’s being talked about so far. It looks to me like there is not just one example, but two now on how to organize an effort such as this.

This is showing me more and more that here in GJ we don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but that any substantive movement will require something on the level of a “foundational mind-set shift”.

The series also provides a look at both the highly visible facets of homelessness and the familiar battle lines that are drawn in urban centers (there are striking similarities to GJ), as well as the hidden faces of poverty that escape perception by the bulk of us every day.

The staff of the Coloradoan deserves a lot of credit for investigating this community problem from multiple viewpoints and locations, and putting together a series that covers most of the bases rather well.

One question raised in my mind after reading these stories regarded the involvement of Colorado State University. While CSU and the City of Fort Collins share a joint interest in the redevelopment of the Poudre River area that connects the downtown area with the college, I’m wondering how much of CSU’s brain trust is involved in the Homeward 2020 initiative.

The list of stakeholders there also includes the major health care player in the area, Poudre Valley Health System, and the local United Way. Should a similar effort be undertaken in the Grand Valley, the presence of St. Mary’s would seem almost essential, along with a commitment of resources of some kind from Mesa State.

The Homeward 2020 website, along with the Coloradoan series, should be required reading for anyone here in Grand Junction who has the slightest level of interest in addressing these issues successfully. I am heartened that groups such as Beyond Charity and the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless are still active and meeting on a regular basis. Yesterday’s meeting was expecting Mayor Coons, GJPD Chief Camper, and a representative from Governor Ritter’s office.

Mayor Coons was quoted in the Coloradoan’s Grand Junction story as saying, “If we’re going to make any strides in solving the problem, we need political clout, a high-profile champion…A Mayor Hickenlooper.” That may very well come to pass come November, but some type of institutional will among the local stakeholders to compromise for the sake of true collaboration and success is also going to be required.

I believe that this begins with making initiatives such as Beyond Charity dovetail with the efforts of our front range neighbors in terms of organization, financial commitment, and community involvement. This includes showcasing the issues in the local media. The Sentinel has done some competent reporting on some of the issues and contributing causes, and I’m hopeful that they will continue to do much, much more of this. Someone in the local broadcast media needs to step up as well.

I’m also hopeful that the key players in GJ will see fit to partner with their fellow stakeholders in Fort Collins and Denver to help see our community through what is a true challenge to both our physical and intangible selves.

Enjoy the rain, if you can.

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