The newly formed Carbondale Homeless Assistance has generated strong interest as it plays trial and error trying to find the best way to provide for people stranded in the freezing cold.
A “discover as you go process” is the only way to build such an organization from scratch, said Vince Savage, executive director of Aspen Homeless Shelter, who advised the Carbondale group Wednesday night.
Carbondale Homeless Assistance’s Facebook page is up and running with nearly 200 people joining in just the first few days.
First the group needs to figure out the scale of Carbondale’s homeless problem, then members should assess their available resources, said Savage.
Aspen Homeless Shelter offers a place to stay during the coldest months of the year, a hot meal each day and a 365-day-a-year facility with access to showers, washers and dryers and phone and Internet access for job searching.
But that level of service is not necessarily right for Carbondale, said Savage.
The group can start by forming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so that when it raises money, people know what their donations will be used for, he said.
Aspen Homeless Shelter started with a group of people wringing their hands much like the people in Carbondale Homeless Assistance, said Savage. “But you don’t have to have a entire program figured out before you get started.”
Local government will jump in once something good is happening, but group members shouldn’t expect the town to cross all the t’s and dot the i’s, he said.
Luckily, the number of Carbondale’s homeless is relatively small. Lynn Kirchner, who’s been spearheading the effort, said there are only four people with whom police consistently deal throughout the year, though that number grows during the summer.
The bottom line is to keep someone from dying this winter on Carbondale’s streets, said Robert Fullerton. He also suggested creating a “street sheet,” a list of available resources in the area that would be publishing periodically in the area’s newspapers.
Also, getting local law enforcement to join in is an important step because officers are in frequent contact with the homeless, said Savage.
The group is also looking for a fundraising venue, such as a GoFundMe.com website that would allow people to donate online.
But figuring out what services the group wants to provide will be central because people will want to know specifics of what they’re donating to, said Kirchner.
Whatever the money goes to, Kirchner stressed that people should buy what a homeless person needs rather than give them cash.
Even if the group is looking for a temporary warm space for when the weather drops to potentially deadly temperatures, finding the right location will be a big hurdle.
At the meeting Wednesday, the group was considering paying for hotel rooms that the homeless could use – an approach that could get people off the street immediately.
But by Thursday afternoon Kirchner felt that approach was a dead end. The hotels have already had bad experiences with some of the homeless in the area and were reluctant to open their doors to an organization that couldn’t cover the liability of a trashed room, she said.
Turning to the faith-based community might be the best option, said Savage. But even if a minister is willing, many churches have a board of trustees that has final say on building uses.
Each faith community will have to decide for itself whether serving the needy is a part of its mission, but for most it is, said Savage.
Carbondale doesn’t need a full-blown shelter, and maybe the best approach is simply buying the homeless bus passes to places with shelters like Glenwood Springs, said Kirchner.
“One doesn’t have to build an ark when all you need is a canoe,” said Savage.
This is no formula for helping the homeless because everyone is different, said Savage. “They all come with their own array of experiences and attitudes – and pride.”