Carbondale organization reducing homelessness |

Carbondale organization reducing homelessness

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
A homeless campsite near Carbondale. Photo taken in the spring of 2019.
Post Independent file photo

Four years ago, Carbondale realtor Lynn Kirchner realized the need for homeless outreach when she discovered a former client was living on the street.

“I was shocked. This is a person who was very well known; her family is well known, very well respected in the community. So that’s what lit my fire,” Kirchner told the town board of trustees Tuesday.

Within a month, Kirchner organized a community meeting, and more than 100 people showed up.

Since late 2015, Carbondale Homeless Assistance has helped many homeless and near-homeless people in the community, providing basic hygiene, gift cards for food and clothing, and other services through an all-volunteer effort.

Kirchner said she sometimes faces criticism for providing the shower passes. She speaks with people who wonder how she knows that hygiene is what the homeless want.

“To be quite frank, we went and asked,” Kirchner said in an interview. Before coming up with services and asking for donations, Kirchner and other volunteers approached the homeless in the community and asked what they needed.

At the time, there were between 12 and 16 homeless persons living in Carbondale.

“Those 12 to 16 say that hygiene is one of the most important needs. Many were trying to get jobs, and needed a place to shower,” Kirchner said.

A big part of the organization’s work is providing passes to the Carbondale Recreation Center for homeless persons to use showers.

Homeless Assistance has helped five people move into permanent housing and better situations. While the number of homeless in town varies, four homeless men living in Carbondale have no interest in moving indoors.

“Right now, there are four gentlemen that are part of our community that live in the wilderness. They do not want housing; they’re not interested in housing. They appreciate the benefit of showers and assistance from us, but that’s it. They really don’t ask for much from us or want more,” Kirchner said.

When Kirchner started the CHA, the town of Carbondale at the time endorsed the effort, but didn’t commit any support to the organization.

Kirchner believes CHA is in a position now to ask for support.

“We finally have the proof that we are making a difference, and that we are worth supporting,” Kirchner said.

Carbondale trustees appeared to agree.

“Other municipalities have to spend a tremendous amount of money to have any impact on this problem, so I think it is kind of incumbent on a community, through its tax base and through its public governance, to address this in some way,” trustee Ben Bohmfalk said.

Providing complimentary passes for homeless as distributed by CHA could save the organization money and time spent fundraising, Kirchner said. Each year, CHA provides between $1,300 and $1,500 for day passes to the recreation center for showers.

“This is a small amount for a really important service in our community,” trustee Erica Sparhawk said.

The trustees will consider approving those passes for the homeless at a later meeting, which has not been scheduled.