Residents of Oak Creek forced to leave their apartments this month bouncing from motel to motel
Steamboat Springs — The half-dozen people who were evacuated from an apartment building in Oak Creek Dec. 4 because of dangerous carbon monoxide levels have been on the move ever since and are likely to be without permanent housing during the holidays.
In some cases, their possessions are still locked inside their former homes while they confront the challenge of finding housing they can afford in Routt County.
Kelly Wiley and her husband, Scott, were living in the Steamboat Hotel on the city’s south side late this week and getting many of their meals from a convenience store while they prepare to spend the holidays in Denver where he hopes to find new employment.
Landlord Scott Wedel confirmed this week that since the Routt County Building Department declared the apartment building he owns as uninhabitable, he had been paying to house his former tenants at the Oak Creek Motel until recently when it was booked up with reservations for the holiday period. Wedel said he was continuing to pay rent for another tenant, Cynthia Morgan, at the Oak Tree Inn in Yampa.
“We’ve gone from Oak Creek to Yampa to Steamboat (at the Quality Inn), and now, we’re back in Steamboat at the Steamboat Hotel after a short stay at Holy Name Catholic Church,” Kelly Wiley said Dec. 22. “After Friday, I have to go stay with my son-in-law in Denver until I get a disability check.”
Just the essentials
Wiley has Stage 3 emphysema and uses an oxygen bottle around the clock. And Scott Wiley is winding up his employment with an auto parts store this week.
As the Wiley family, which sometimes includes a granddaughter, has bounced around different temporary housing this month, they have carried only the essentials with them in their 2001 Grand Cherokee.
Treasured mementos, including Kelly’s childhood Teddy bear and the American flag that draped the coffin of Scott’s father, are still in the apartment.
“I have a small bag with my medicines, but they’re running out,” Wiley said. “Our whole household is in (the apartment). We haven’t been able to go back and get things. It’s still locked.”
Morgan, who is a person who uses a wheelchair, is living in a suitable ADA hotel room at the Oak Tree Inn in Yampa.
Although it’s not part of his job description, Oak Creek Police Chief Ralph Maher came through for Morgan when there was a miscommunication about a pre-arranged ride from Oak Creek to Yampa in a wheelchair-friendly vehicle. Maher arranged to borrow a bus from the South Routt School District and drove Morgan to Yampa himself.
Oak Creek Town Administrator Mary Alice Page-Allen praised Maher for attempting to ease what she called “a very sad and traumatic situation.”
Police chief pitches in
“I want to give a huge shout-out to Chief Maher,” he has really been the go-to guy, Page Allen said. “We’ve done all we can within the extent of our authority.”
Maher has also tried to help a third household, that of D’Ann Russell and Darrell “Shane” Swink but isn’t aware of their current housing status.
What the Morgan, Swink/Russell and Wiley households really need, Maher said is a mentor to coach them through the steps of contacting the different entities that could help them find appropriate housing.
In the longer term, Page-Allen is concerned about the loss of the community housing units at Wedel’s building. Wiley said she was paying $700 for her one-bedroom-plus-loft home. When her husband was underemployed, she said, she was able to qualify for federal Section 8 housing credits, which Wedel was able to accept.
We’re asking, “What can we do that’s within the town’s purview, to bring these four, much-needed rental units back,” she said.
Maher said one of the things he’s learned from the situation is that despite the abundance of committed human service agencies that exist in Routt County, there’s a gap when it comes to people in already challenging circumstances who suddenly lose their homes because they are found to be uninhabitable.
Morgan said Thursday that she has been a resident of Oak Creek for 24 years, and while she has relatives in a distant state, Oak Creek is her home. One of the things she misses about her apartment is that Wedel allowed her to have a wheelchair ramp, helping her to be more self-sufficient.
Morgan, who is anticipating the arrival of a new service/companion dog to replace one that died, said she has to leave the Oak Tree Inn by the morning of Dec. 27. She has called the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence for wheelchair suitable transportation.
“They asked me where I’m going and I said, ‘I don’t know yet,’” Morgan said.
Wedel said Dec. 23 he won’t allow Morgan to be homeless in the middle of winter, but he’s frustrated that he seems to be involved in a “game of chicken” with human services organizations he believes should be doing more to find housing for his former tenants.
“I was going to step in for her to be at the Oak Tree Inn for a week, but if everybody else in Routt County is willing to dare her to be homeless, probably I will flinch at that dare and pay for another week at the Oak Tree Inn,” he said.
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Steamboat Springs Transit is currently in the process of securing seasonal housing for its winter employees, and transit staff members are also looking to build long-term housing on land the city owns.