Government uses Mesa County as example to fight homelessness

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From the Veterans Affairs Hospital, to the city of Grand Junction and various non-profit agencies, homelessness is a fight Mesa County is taking on as a community.

Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia wanted to learn from Mesa County's successes in ending homelessness so he could share those messages across the state. During his time in Grand Junction, he focused much of his attention on veteran homelessness and how multiple agencies across the Valley are working together to find homes for those on the streets.

Synergy is the interaction of elements that when combined, produce an effect greater than the sum of the individual parts. In Mesa County, it was the synergic effort in the fight against homelessness which drew the attention of the governor's office.

"Different agencies here collaborate with each other," Catholic Outreach Sister Karen Bland said. "They just wanted to see how we made [homelessness decrease]."

While the state continues its fight against homelessness, leaders are looking to those communities which have shown strides in recent years in getting people back into homes.

"Mesa County is really kind of setting a standard. Mesa County is doing an outstanding job," Lieutenant Governor Garcia said. “When you bring together the faith community, local government, state government with federal dollars, you can really make a difference."

Sister Karen says the success in Mesa County comes from various organizations working together.

"It's not just opening a door and letting someone go in. You need support for them, you need direction toward resources," she said.

Those local resources range from the city and police to the VA Hospital, homeless shelters and the Grand Junction Housing Authority.

"We communicate so closely and frankly we treat the homeless people as individuals, not just as numbers," Grand Junction Housing Authority CEO Jody Kole said.

Kole also said Lt. Governor Garcia was impressed with Mesa County’s use of Veteran’s Assistance Supportive Housing (VASH) housing vouchers.

"Grand Junction has 140 vouchers dedicated to serving the needs of homeless veterans, and we have most of them housed up and veterans successfully in housing. We hope to achieve more vouchers for that program in the future," she said.

In the last 100 days, Mesa County has housed 18 vets, 13 of whom were chronically homeless.

Much of Friday’s meeting focused on finding veterans homes, something Mesa County has excelled in with the support of the Catholic Outreach’s St. Martin's Place.

"We know a lot of our veterans come back and have some mental health issues, sometimes have a hard time finding jobs in a down economy," Lt. Governor Garcia said.

The state hopes to take its lessons from mesa county back to Denver, because as various groups have shown here, if a persona is given a chance and direction, lives can truly be changed for the better.

"My VA [Hospital] family [was] extended," St. Martin’s Place resident Mary Sonneborn said of moving into the facility. “I took a chance and came down and found a whole different group of people that treat you like family."

KKCO 11 News asked Lieutenant Governor if he thought Mesa County’s goal of ending homelessness in ten years was possible. He says it can happen, but it will take community recognition of the problem and a commitment to fix it.

He added Mesa County is off to a great start.

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