After hosting two internal planning meetings and circulating emails (pdf) in which Grand Junction Community Development personnel warned the City faces a “really big surge” and “exponential growth” in the number of homeless people, and that the number of homeless kids in School District 51 is “staggering,” City Manager Greg Caton suddenly pulled the plug on a planned third meeting about homelessness, without any explanation why.
This left advocates for the homeless greatly concerned.
The meeting Caton cancelled was to be the third in a series addressing homelessness in the City. It was billed as an opportunity to give local business owners the chance to vent to the City about how homelessness is affecting their businesses.
But Grand Junction homeless advocate Jacob Richards, who wrote an article in the Daily Sentinel last year about the gentrification of Grand Junction and is aware of the City’s ongoing efforts to address homelessness, had circulated a flier inviting homeless people to attend the planned January 30 meeting, which seems to have sent up red flags to some in City government.
In the minutes of a January 26 City of G.J. “internal homelessness meeting,” City personnel worried that, “people from a lot of different backgrounds have ‘self-invited’ themselves to the meeting.” Grand Junction Police Department Chief Matt Smith said he “Can’t imagine that this will be a productive meeting with this group of people,” and asked, “Should we cancel?” Other suggestions included moving the meeting to a different location or changing the format.
Ultimately, on Sunday, January 29 at 12 noon, G.J. City Manager Greg Caton sent out an email to Community Development personnel cancelling the meeting without giving a reason, leaving Community Development department employees scrambling for a reason they could tell business owners why the meeting was called off.
Richards said “I just don’t see how homeless folks attending a meeting about homeless folks in Whitman Park” would be inappropriate. Richards feels cancelling the meeting was a case of “people in power preempting the speech of marginalized people.”
Not giving up
For its part, the City Community Development department says they are not dropping the homeless issue, but rather are very committed to it. They are working on housing strategies, will be putting out a Request for Proposals for an unhoused needs assessment, are working with local groups like Solidarity Not Charity, Catholic Outreach and other groups and they are committed to preserving the ability of groups to feed the homeless, as they have been. There is also funding to help with the issue coming down the pipeline from the federal and state governments, the Department of Local Affairs and other sources. The City also has a goal of building 300 affordable housing units near Community Hospital at 665 24 Road.
In the meantime, there are lots of ways to give City officials your opinion on this or any other issue:
This meeting may have been cancelled, but that doesn’t need to stop City Council members from hearing ideas people have to help the homeless issue. Jacob Richard points out in his article that one big problem is that the most affordable type of decent housing — rooming houses downtown where people could rent a small room for a couple hundred dollars a month — have mostly been demolished or eliminated as bigger and more expensive projects have moved in.
If you have thoughts on the issue, you are welcome to make them known, whoever you are.
Anyone can speak to City Council members at any public Council meeting, as long as the topic is not on that evening’s agenda. You can check the agendas for their meetings here. Just arrive a few minutes early and sign up to speak in the Public Comment Period. There’s no limit on the number of people who can speak during the Public Comment Period, but speakers are limited to 3 minutes each. The Public Comment Period is near the beginning of each meeting, so people don’t have to wait a long time for it. Anyone can sign up to speak. Council also has a Public Comment Phone Line people can call any time to leave a comment about any subject. Your statement will be transcribed and conveyed to the entire City Council. That number is (970) 244-1504, and people can also email all City Council members at once by addressing an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, of course, you can also just walk into City Hall at 250 N. 5th Street, go up to City Administration and ask to leave them a note.