The death of a local homeless man due to exposure was a wake-up call for some in Delta County.
"We knew that if we didn’t step up and start helping these individuals that we would have a lot more people die in our community and we wanted to prevent that," said Cheryl Oeltjenbruns, the board president of Abraham Connection, a seasonal homeless shelter in Delta founded six years ago by community members and church leaders.
The shelter operates from November through the end of April.
"We have just started our sixth season of shelter and we’ve been housed in the basement of the Methodist church here in Delta," said Oeltjenbruns. "We’ve have been in really cramped quarters."
A Permanent Home
Abraham Connection now has its own building in downtown Delta.
Last week, people packed the shelter’s new location for an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony.
"We want to thank you all for coming," Oeltjenbruns told a crowded room. "As we have said over and over, this is a community shelter that was built for the community by the community."
She said that several years ago the state actually approached Abraham Connection about building a permanent facility. Then the organization received $320,000 from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to help make it happen.
"We raised over $750,000 to complete this structure. We have over 4,800 square feet and we will be able to provide a lot more comprehensive services to the guests who come in."
The shelter now has separate sleeping areas for men, women and children. Back when it was in a church basement, sleeping areas were divided by partitions.
"We have showers available here now as well as laundry facilities so guests can come and wash their own clothes. The room we are standing in is a counseling room so we are going to be able to offer more comprehensive case management services."
Volunteers like Lance Boran staff the shelter. He helps prepare meals and does overnight stays.
"The shelter what I believe it means for [guests] is a warm bed, a great meal, [and] hopefully security for the night so that they are not worried out on the streets," said Boran.
Over the course of last winter 96 people stayed at the shelter, according to Abraham Connection officials. It's also the only homeless shelter in the area.
Delta County Commissioner Bruce Hovde said the organization provides an essential service.
"We’ve all seen the news reports with people that are huddled up under tattered blankets in an alley," said Hovde. "We don’t want that. The Abraham Connection is providing a vital service."
Oeltjenbruns said the shelter's mission is not to provide handouts, but rather a hand up by addressing the causes of homelessness and not just treating the symptoms.
"Abraham was a wanderer in the biblical times who wandered in the desert, but was actually trying to lead people to home [and] to safety. We knew that is what we wanted to do so we called it the Abraham Connection."
She said the organization is still in need of volunteers and essential items such as kitchen, bathroom and personal hygiene products.