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A legacy of new dreams: Director of Bridge shelter to retire

Knutson led mission for new facility, expanded services

The Bridge Emergency Shelter in Cortez is seeking a new executive director.

Laurie Knutson, who has held the position since 2013, plans to retire in August.

Knutson, 67, steered the organization through many important changes. When she arrived, it was situated in the former jail and offered the homeless a hot meal and an overnight stay in winter.

When the building sold to the Kiva Montessori School, the Bridge organization scrambled to find a new location.

Knutson negotiated a land deal with the county and embarked on a community fundraising campaign to build a new facility in 2019 at 735 N. Park St. The new shelter includes an overnight shelter, kitchen and dining area on the ground floor and transitional apartments on the second floor with affordable rent.

Knutson said the best part of her job is seeing the homeless find safe shelter, gain employment, move into a transitional apartment, then find permanent housing.

“When people stabilize their lives and move on, that is success for us,” Knutson said.

About 30% of homeless have addiction and mental health problems, she said. Others are down on their luck for reasons ranging from a divorce or loss of a job, to a foreclosure, accident or illness. Some clients have recently been released from jail and need a place to stay as they rebuild lives.

Like everywhere, the abrupt impacts of the pandemic hit The Bridge in unprecedented ways and piled on more risks for an already vulnerable population.

Knutson implemented strict safety protocols to protect staff and clients and comply with state restrictions. Capacity in the overnight shelter was reduced. The shelter has reported no cases of COVID.

Knutson has a master’s degree in social work and has worked on the issue of homelessness in larger cities, including New York.

“I wanted to work on the problem in rural areas. When I saw this opportunity in Cortez, that was my chance,” she said.

Retirement will be the next “grand adventure,” she said, though she has not made plans yet.

One thing for sure is she will miss the people and the mission of helping the disadvantaged improve their lives.

She and her staff take a “strength-based” approach toward guiding the homeless to stability.

“People have inner strength, and with support and services will rise to the challenge, become responsible,” she said. “The Bridge is the nudge a lot of people need to help themselves become independent.”

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, including the homeless, Knutson added.

“Shelters provide that safe place for people. If people don’t have basic needs of safe shelter and food, they are not in a position to dream and plan for future success.”

The community support for sustaining the Bridge and then expanding it speaks volumes, Knutson said.

“I feel extraordinarily lucky to have helped the organization grow into its next phase that is permanent with a transitional housing program,” she said. “We have seen the positive impacts on people’s lives, and it makes us proud.”

In a statement, the Bridge board of directors said Knutson has been “an ardent fundraiser and community leader.” She lead a team of volunteers and staff toward the growth and permanence of the Bridge.

“She has been stellar, absolutely a great leader and mentor,” said Bridge board member Deb Keel. “We wish we could keep her forever.”

A search committee has been formed to find a new executive director. The opening has been posted at thebridgeshelter.org

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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