Shelter provides a necessary service

The faces, the eyes, the words ó all tell stories of sadness, desperation, gloom, melancholy, some drifting into despair, while others beam with hope.

Itís obvious that hope is an empty tank for some.

These are the faces and the stories of the Bridge Emergency Shelter and the Cortez Day Labor center.

To many, maybe most, the perception of the shelter is simple. Packed full of intoxicated people, using it a nighttime flophouse.

That is part of the shelter. But itís a necessary service to keep people alive. For those intoxicated clients who stagger or stroll into the shelter during the cold winter nights, itís a lifesaver ó literally. On Jan. 2, 2012, Mary Rose Shay froze to death in the park. In early January 2011, Michael ďTagĒ Garner froze to death downtown.

Abusing alcohol is a choice, and sympathy isnít dolled out with charitable abundance. And maybe it shouldnít be. But the shelter serves a valuable purpose in Cortez. It does save lives.

But there are others who find shelter from the night, who arenít alcoholics. People stranded, down on their luck, needing a little help to get back on track, people who need a roof and bed until life at home smooths out ... the shelter is also a lifeline to them.

The Cortez community has long supported the Bridge Emergency Shelter, keeping the pantry stocked, donating money to pay for staff, and volunteering to try and make a difference in this community.

Thereís no doubt that homelessness isnít a fluffy subject. Seeing a drunk man stumbling headfirst into the dirt, near a school, isnít a community highlight.

But itís a reality and ignoring it isnít the solution.

Itís difficult to understand a situation thatís based in life choices.

Frustration and irritation can easily overpower sympathy and compassion at times. But for staff, itís usually short-lived, and compassion returns as they have a firm understanding of their mission.

Their mission is to support and provide help to those who need it.

Talking to these men and women who use the shelter and are surrounded by dire circumstances provides a stunning contrast as I return home to a house and cable TV, and a stocked refrigerator. I have a job, a car, a home, and a yellow lab that barks too much and a cat who drinks out of the toilet.

I have worked for these things but I know others who have also worked hard and now find themselves in the center of a swirling storm that has sent them dangerously close to despair and desperation.

I have an uncle, who was my hero when I was a child. He now lives on the streets of Grand Junction, begging for food and sleeping in shelters. His choice was alcohol and Iíve struggled not to hate him for years.

These people at the Cortez shelter and day labor, arenít eager to talk about their situation but they embrace honesty. They look me square in my eyes as they confess to poor choices in the past, not being able to hold jobs and relationships that have turned to rubbish.

Thereís a twinge of embarrassment in their words and in their eyes. But they know the situation, they know the reality. They need help. They need shelter from the night, they need a few dollars from a day labor job to help support their family.

The Bridge Emergency Shelter is a reflection of the community. Thereís diversity and many layers. The shelter isnít just full of alcoholics. There are men and women, some drunk, some not.

Some have given up, some have not. Some want a fresh start, others admit theyíve used up all their second, third and fourth chances.

A hot dinner, a warm bed, a little camaraderie and breakfast before they leave for the adventures of the day ó this is the Bridge Emergency Shelter.

Some will look for work or a way home. Others will find a way to secure alcohol.

Some wonít return to the shelter but many will. As the clock strikes 6 p.m., the ringer on the shelter door will sound, and that door will open. Clients will stream in and warmth will embrace them.

Food is ready and they are safe for the night.

This will be their home for tonight, tomorrow night, maybe for the next 100 nights or more.

For these men and women, home is the shelter, because itís all they have.

Home is where the heart is, and the shelter is full of compassion.

Reach Dale Shrull at dales@cortezjournal.com.

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