Homelessness in this country and this community is often talked about in the abstract or through statistics — this is how many people are on the street, this is how many shelter beds we need, this is how many affordable housing units we need — but what is often missed is the human element.

A story in our Sunday edition by The Sentinel’s Dale Shrull can give the community an idea of what a man’s life meant to this community — a homeless man’s life.

Warren Barnes’ impact on the downtown community has been highlighted after he was the victim of a terrible violent crime, something that is unfortunately not uncommon for a homeless person. People experiencing homelessness are more often the victims of a violent crime than the perpetrator and rates of violent crime against those who are unhoused is higher than those with housing.

However, focusing on the crime misses the larger picture that some people experiencing homelessness can and do contribute positively to our community.

Barnes, as an example, developed relationships with business owners, often lending them a hand, and befriended workers in the downtown area. He was a staple of downtown Grand Junction where he would sit in a downtown breezeway reading his books.

Over the weekend, Barnes’ life was remembered at a ceremony in which a sculpture to him was dedicated, featuring a metal creation of the books he loved to read and the chair he often sat in while enjoying them.

That piece of art was created by 39-year old Tim Navin of Sparks Fly Studios in Fruita, who shared his own experience with homelessness at the event.

“I’m almost six years sober. I’ve been in his shoes, I’ve been homeless due to my addiction,” Navin said.

This is an example of another man, who once was homeless, having a positive impact in our community through his art. People who struggle with homelessness and addiction aren’t hopeless cases. Just look at the testimonials on the HomewardBound of the Grand Valley website and you’ll find even more examples.

The truth is most homeless people are temporarily homeless. They don’t want to be living on the street. They want to get their lives back together and they deserve help.

Too often this issue is conflated with the problems of vagrancy, which is a related, but separate problem. We need to focus on providing housing and help to the majority who are simply trying to get out of a difficult situation.

The problem of homelessness has come to the fore as it has grown in visibility in the country and around Grand Junction. Homelessness has been an issue for years in the area, but efforts to address the issue have been moving forward.

Starting this week The Daily Sentinel has put together a series of stories looking at how law enforcement and other agencies tackle this issue. The stories range from what services are available to how law enforcement works to direct men and women without homes to services that are available to them.

This is a difficult issue to solve and we think it would benefit the community if there was better understanding of the struggles of those experiencing homelessness, who they interact with our local service providers and what future steps are being taken to address the situation. We think this series will begin to do just that.

Grand Junction Daily Sentinel editorial board

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