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In Colorado mountain towns, where affordable housing is scarce, 'even living out of your car is gentrified'

Bruce Finley, The Denver Post on

Published in Home and Consumer News

SALIDA, Colorado — Blocked from sleeping in vehicles parked within municipal boundaries, workers in profit-minded Colorado mountain towns now must seek “safe outdoor space” — in Walmart lots, forests or newly designated areas with Wi-Fi and access to bathrooms.

But homeowners oppose these SOS zones in Salida and Breckenridge as “band-aids” encouraging vehicle-based living. And workers who park there are charged $300 a month in Salida and $45 in Breckenridge ($80 if rec center showers are included).

Salida leaders also are purchasing camping trailers, for workers to rent for $650 a month, positioned east of town by the sewage disposal plant next to tiny homes.

A camper beats couch-surfing and saves commuting time from forests, said Annie San Ramon, 18, who lives in one of the first five. She timed out of foster care, wanted to stay in Salida, where she was born and raised, and pedals a bicycle to work that includes volunteer help for restorative justice.

“It’s affordable. It gives you a safe place to be,” San Ramon said.

Colorado’s widening kibosh on sleeping in vehicles adds to festering pain beneath the state’s recreation-oriented tourism and house-buying economic fervor. Towns are transformed and celebrated as mountain amusement havens where river rafts and mountain bikes glide. But an intensifying housing squeeze hits workers hardest and now threatens service. These new accommodations have emerged as government-backed efforts to retain workers and also keep parking spaces free for visitors and well-to-do newcomers.

 

Across mountainous western Colorado, cars as cocoons for sleep and sanity serve as last-resort shelters helping hundreds who provide services stay around. Yet “parking is at a premium,” said Margaret Bowes, director of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns, welcoming the creation of new designated overnight lots.

“It’s just a safe place to park where people aren’t going to be bothered by police,” Bowes said. “These are the people keeping our communities running. We need them here.”

Not that vehicle living is easy for workers who, after completing shifts cleaning, cooking and shop-keeping, can face disapproving glances and have to slip strategically into toilets and showers.

Local business manager Scott Link, 45, recalled: “the things that come with this — the depression, the paranoia” — after a three-year stint “trying to keep a really low profile” while living out of a white camper truck with his two pit bulls.

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