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The Bridge shelter in Cortez cuts hours as costs rise

Residents of low-income apartments at the The Bridge Emergency Shelter in February 2021. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Shelter houses up to 41 residents; demand spikes as housing costs rise

The Bridge shelter in Cortez has shortened its hours of operation, citing the increased cost of groceries and utilities.

Previously open 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to people looking for a warm bed or hot meal, the shelter now closes at 7 a.m.

Office hours remain the same: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

The Bridge is the only housing provider of its kind for people who face homelessness in Cortez. In operation for 15 years, it moved into a new building in 2019.

The seasonal shelter offers housing for homeless people who are working to get back on their feet, but tenants don’t stay for free.

The Bridge provides small apartments for up to 41 people on a six-month lease. Tenants must show they have a source of income to rent an apartment.

Tenants pay $200 per month or 30% of their income if they can’t afford $200. While at the shelter, they receive help in finding a job and housing when their Bridge lease is up and receive referrals for addiction support, mental health services and counseling if needed.

The six-month lease can be renewed and extended if the tenant shows significant progress toward independence.

According to The Bridge’s executive director, Theresa Wilson, the rising prices are causing a sharp increase in the number of individuals who need the shelter’s aid.

“Requests for nightly sheltering and transitional housing has increased by at least 20%,” Wilson said. “It is assumed part of the reason housing at The Bridge has increased is because The Bridge housing does not turn people away with felonies and the rent is kept as low as possible. The emergency shelter is a low-barrier shelter and does not turn people away due to any legal issues, addiction or mental illness.”

“There is absolutely no doubt the cost of housing has affected homelessness,” Wilson added. “We meet people every week who are inquiring about housing at The Bridge because they cannot afford the rent at their current location or they are about to lose their housing because the rent is too high.”

Wilson noted that people who receive less than $1,000 from disability are especially at risk.

Because the shelter accepts felons and people with addictions or mental health issues, they can’t serve families.

Although The Bridge faces the new challenge of inflation, it has returned to otherwise normal operations since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Wilson, not much changed during the pandemic, however, because of health and cleanliness standards already in place at The Bridge.

Residents of The Bridge shelter rely on bicycles to get to and from work. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

The shelter didn’t have to limit the number of people it could help and didn’t require that residents be vaccinated. COVID tests were provided to make sure tenants remained healthy.

“I feel The Bridge guests were very respectful to their peers and also very caring and nurturing toward each other,” Wilson said. “COVID was not ‘a dirty little secret,’ or a ‘tragedy waiting to happen.’ We were all respectful to each other’s space and made sure we did not let even a sniffle go unnoticed or unchecked.”

Day labor for tenants was temporarily halted during the pandemic, but it is now up and running, albeit with a different format. Day labor coordinator Nancy Johnson now contacts those looking for work when there is a position available rather than ask that all workers wait in a central place to hear word on a job.

The biggest change, however, is how difficult it can be for tenants to get in-person appointments for addiction help, mental health services or counseling.

“I think the most notable change post-pandemic is how people access appointments. It is hard to get a face-to-face with providers,” Wilson said.