I want to thank the Cortez City Council support for the Bridge Emergency Shelter, as evident in their unanimous vote for a surcharge on every ticket written into Cortez Municipal Court.
New programs which have been implemented over the past two years are having a major impact on homeless individuals who come to the Bridge. As shelter manager, I am incredibly grateful for a board of directors that let us integrate these programs into our services.
The board has provided steady direction and forward motion without a permanent executive director since September 2012. We are not captainless, nor directionless, as some would like to think; we have strong hands at the rudder and we are consistently moving toward helping guests at the Bridge and at Day Labor move from chaos and crisis to self-sufficiency and independence.
Our clients are from all walks of life. They have suffered the loss of employment, loss of housing, the death of a spouse or parent, mental and/or physical illness of their own. They are trying to get back on their feet. And we will do all we can to help them! Currently, we have residing with us a PhD, an MA, and several BA's and post-grads. We also have four individuals attending the community college or the Unlimited Learning Center. All clean and sober! How do I know this? Because we assign beds and rooms based on breath tests every night.
It is a myth that we house only intoxicated individuals. This season, on any given night, well under one-third of our guests are assigned to the two rooms where intoxicated individuals eat and sleep. Unfortunately, intoxicated people in the park or on the street are highly visible. They also have had much trauma in their lives as youth and as adults, and they are not able to stay sober. They come from families all over the Four Corners region and ethnicities.
Roy Lane, our chief of police in Cortez has said, "You can't put a price on a life." Alcohol addiction has profound consequences; dying from hypothermia happens in Cortez and has happened for many years in the cold months. The Bridge's core mission is to provide shelter and food for those who can't take care of themselves.
We believe all individuals should be treated with dignity and respect; our staff and volunteers practice this every night with every person who comes to the shelter. The Board, my staff, and a great many residents of our community would much rather provide a safe place for anyone stranded or homeless, regardless of the circumstances, than read about a death in our town. I, for one could not rectify my conscience if I knowingly failed to help keep someone from needlessly dying in the park.
The "dry side" of the house, the areas for drug-free and sober guests, is nearly full to capacity. Unlike our intoxicated clients, these men and woman are not noticed. You may encounter them every day without a second glance, at the market, the library, the recreation center or on the street. At the shelter, these folks are doing some amazing things; lives are being changed. I look forward to sharing more about this after this season ends and I have the opportunity to relate stories as well as publish the summary statistics of the season.
Meanwhile, I ask that community residents be vigilant for our most vulnerable population as winter comes to an end and spring begins. This is the tricky weather season. Warmer weather fools all of us into thinking it isn't that cold at night, but hypothermia and death can occur with temperatures in the 40s and warmer if a person's clothes are wet. So, please if you see someone sleeping in the late afternoon or early evening call the Bridge at 970-565-9808 or Cortez Dispatch at 970-565-8441. We'll bring them in and keep them safe for the night. We open for guests at 6 PM nightly; I'm usually there after 3 PM and you can always leave a message.
Our agreement with the courts is that we will have our folks out of the shelter by 7 a.m. because inmates from jail are moved through our space to go to court. It is typical for shelters to ask folks to be gone during the daytime to encourage them to look for jobs, go to school, etc. And 7 a.m. is a bit early; perhaps this will change when the courts move. Meanwhile, we are careful to send folks out with lots of warm clothes every day.
I feel this quote by Goethe sums up the philosophy of what the Bridge does: "Treat people as if they are what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being."
Donna Boyd is shelter manager of the Bridge Emergency Shelter.