Homeless Task Force works to identify homeless, consider solutions | SteamboatToday.com

Homeless Task Force works to identify homeless, consider solutions

Teresa Ristow

Michelle Dover, left, listens as Michelle Petix, executive director of Partners in Routt County, shares her ideas about addressing homelessness during a March meeting of a Homeless Task Force created by Routt County United Way.

— Routt County's Homeless Task Force is continuing to track the homeless population and brainstorm short- and long-term solutions to help area homeless.

About 13 members of the task force met during the week and discussed the evolving methods to track the homeless and discussed several possible solutions to local homelessness.

Routt County United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak, who created the task force, said she'd spent the past month reaching out to other areas in the state for information about their homeless populations.

"I reached out to other United Ways in Colorado, to see what (homelessness) looks like in other ski towns," Nowak said.

A United Way in southwest Colorado offered Nowak interesting insight into the Durango-area homeless population.

That community started a homeless coalition to learn more about the homeless population, which the coalition originally thought was responsible for the area's significant panhandling problem.

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"Tourists didn't want to come down there and experience the panhandlers," Nowak said.

Ultimately it was discovered that most of the panhandlers were not homeless, and most of the homeless didn't panhandle.

The information about Durango made some members of the Routt County task force wonder if panhandling might be a future problem in Steamboat Springs.

Police Chief Cory Christensen said that while the Steamboat department doesn’t have a panhandling ordinance, ordinances in other parts of the state, including Ft. Collins, are not currently being enforced because of lawsuits in brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union asserting a person's right to panhandle.

The task force discussed ideas of possible short-term housing to help local homeless individuals and families, including teenagers who attend Yampa Valley High School.

Partners in Routt County Executive Director Michelle Petix said she thought a network of families who might be willing to take in a teen temporarily might be one solution to prevent teens from couchsurfing.

"I think there's families out there that would open their door," Petix said.

Routt County Department of Human Services Director Vickie Clark said she planned to reach out to area foster families to see if they might take in local homeless youth temporarily when they aren't already fostering a child.

Task force members have said they are unsure whether a homeless shelter would be an appropriate or desired solution to help area homeless people.

"There are a lot of different solutions," Nowak said after the meeting. "I don't know what the right answer is."

When tracking the homeless population, members of the task force and employees of their respective organizations plan to note whether housing was later found, the reason for the homelessness and whether domestic violence was a factor.

The group plans to meet again in May.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow