GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — Robert Surbaugh, a man unhoused for four years, tells me he depended on Whitman Park to find food, support, and a place to live.
Now, a fence surrounds the grassy field forcing people once living there, like Surbaugh, out.
With access to help nearby and trees to sit under, several of the unhoused used this as their permanent residence.
According to a city survey taken in 2020, one in four unhoused experienced chronic illness, one in four experienced chronic PTSD, and one in five had a substance use disorder.
A Mesa County press release also shows the number of people who are houseless in our valley rose 43 percent – after median home prices rose 20 percent between 2019 and 2021.
Surbaugh tells me one hardship is finding food.
One local supplier is the Mutual Aid Weekly Distribution, that like today, happens every Tuesday. It includes haircuts, food, and even voter registration.
Unhoused advocate Eric Niederkruger tells me he’s not happy about the sudden change to Whitman Park.
Surbaugh tells me Catholic Outreach, Center for Independence, and Whitman Park were the main source of supplies, until the city fenced them out of the park. With a flood of the unhoused now displaced, Surbaugh says Catholic Outreach and Center for Independence can’t give out any more help to others in need, simply because there’s too many.
He also says it’s much harder for people to help now that the unhoused are scattered.
Eric tells me the problem is rooted deeper than just this park.
The city is conducting a housing needs assessment to better find the solution to this growing epidemic. In the meantime, Eric says he feels the city needs to build a center where the unhoused can legally gather and get the services they need.