Grand Junction’s new resource center aims to help its unhoused community

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Stina Sieg/CPR News
Raven Blackwing, who sleeps at night in a hammock in a Grand Junction park, likes to spend part of his days at the city’s new resource center for unhoused people. There, he says he can relax in a calm environment and get into a “creative flow,” making origami earrings he sells.

Light snow was falling over downtown Grand Junction on a recent morning, but in a formerly empty lot, loud heaters blasted warm air into all 9,000 square feet of a white event tent. About a dozen people sat on padded chairs with their bags, one woman coaxing her dog into a big crate, as light streamed in from the tall windows despite the gray day.

This new daytime resource center for unhoused people is a partnership between the city and the nonprofits HomeWardBound of the Grand Valley and United Way of Mesa County. The center is a place for people to get out of the cold, get a meal, clothing, even a shower.

For frequent guest Raven Blackwing, it’s a space to get into a “creative mode,” he said.

Sitting at a small table, he showed off several pairs of iridescent origami earrings, hearts and dragons and cranes, some smaller than a dime, all made through a series of tiny, painstaking folds. 

“It’s like time folded up,” Blackwing said, his dark hair resting in braids around his shoulders. “It's my time and my patience folded up.” 

He comes here in the morning, after waking up in his hammock hanging in a city park. He’s one of hundreds of Grand Junction residents who sleep outside. But here, he can relax, without judgment. 

“It feels really great,” Blackwing said. 

The center grew out of chaos last fall, when the city of Grand Junction abruptly closed a park a few blocks away that had become considered by many the center of the city’s unhoused community. The city installed metal gates blocking off Whitman Park and declared it available for events by reservation only. That disrupted the weekly meals local charities had distributed there for years.

The meals and many of the unhoused residents who were staying in the park soon moved to another city park a few blocks east, which will also be closed by the city by the end of February to make room for a new skate park. 

Many unhoused people are “really angry” about the closures, Blackwing said, but it’s part of his spiritual practice not to be, but instead to “take responsibility” for his own karma. 

“I’m half Native, so we value being able to suffer well,” he said.

He also knows he needs structure — structure this resource center provides every day. “Or I’ll go astray,” he said.

Stina Sieg/CPR News
Grand Junction's new resource center for unhoused people is a partnership between the city and the nonprofits HomewardBound of the Grand Valley and United Way of Mesa County. Chris Masters is HomewardBound's director of administration and operations.

HomeWardBound’s Chris Masters gets it. He used to be unhoused himself.

The resource center is more than getting people inside and off the street, he stressed. 

“That is one purpose, but the main focus is to get people on a track to being housed,” he said.

To do that, they have to earn people’s trust. Maybe that starts with helping them get medical care — or maybe just a cup of coffee. Case managers are onsite to meet people where they’re at. 

“This is not just a Band-Aid,” Masters said.

He calls it a social movement.

“And we have to put all of our differences aside and look at the big picture,” he said. “Are we here to help or are we not? That’s what it boils down to.”

The resource center will stay in its current location for two years, and in that time, Masters hopes the community will come together to find more solutions.