Temporary program allowing local workers to sleep in their cars opens in Salida

Courtesy Madelyn Selsh
Andrew Schumaker is the Safe Outdoor Space host for the new temporary program that allows approved participants to sleep in their vehicles overnight in Salida’s Centennial Park.

A temporary program that allows local employees to sleep in their cars overnight at a park in Salida is slated to officially open with a ribbon-cutting Friday. This so-called safe outdoor space, or SOS, is part of the community’s plans to address an affordable housing shortage there.

Many restaurant workers, raft guides and even professionals struggle to afford a place to live in Chaffee County, according to local resident and housing activist Cory “Salty” Riggs. Some of them end up sleeping in their cars in a variety of places, both legal and illegal, she said.

“Living in your car is a little bit more expensive than you'd imagine,” Riggs said. “Instead of paying rent and bills, you still have to provide ice and propane (for) keeping your food cold and your coffee hot. Just like all the other nickel and dime costs, you have to go somewhere to charge your devices and you have to (spend) $15 to do a few loads of laundry and that takes several hours. So all those little costs actually add up along with the time spent.”

Riggs is president of BETCH, an acronym for Bringing Everyone Through the Crisis of Housing, a non-profit organization managing the SOS in partnership with the City of Salida, the Chaffee Housing Authority and Chaffee County Public Health.

The city will provide basic amenities like trash pickup, showers and portable toilets, while the participants will have to prove eligibility and agree to responsibilities like safety and community respect. 

A couple of people have already completed the paperwork and been deemed eligible for the program and several more are in the process of applying, Riggs said. 

Salida city council approved the program last month. Council member Jane Templeton said she thinks they’ll be able to respond to concerns brought up by area residents.

“It's not going to be perfect. I want the citizenry to know that,” she said. “We're on the Titanic and the captain can't run around and ask everybody, ‘What do you think? Should we lower the lifeboats?’ We have to act.”

BETCH also provides small subsidies to help local workers stay in permanent housing. The organization has distributed a total of about $3,000 in increments of $250 to $500 to more than a dozen people so far this year, according to Riggs.

Meantime the city has several other affordable housing programs in the works, ranging from providing RVs at a campground, to converting short term rental units to long term dwellings, to  creating low income housing options in new development projects.

The SOS is expected to run through October.