A $2,000 grant is revitalizing Moab Solutions’ Parkway Partners project to respond to the “hardcore” people who continue to live outside, despite recent efforts to move people out of homeless camps along the Mill Creek Parkway.
Moab Solutions was awarded on May 21 with a $2,000 grant from The Synergy Company, a Moab-based organic supplemental nutrition business.
“I’m thrilled,” Sara Melnicoff, Moab Solutions’ founder, said of receiving the grant. “It’s amazing that they want to help with this project.”
Melnicoff said the grant will be used to pay crews to perform area cleanups, recycling and restoration work, building upon Moab Solutions’ mission of environmental stewardship and homeless outreach.
Moab Solutions’ Parkway Partners project began in 2004. At that time, Melnicoff said a dozen or more homeless camps were positioned on the land adjacent to the Mill Creek Parkway trail in Moab. Melnicoff asked the homeless people to help cleanup what trash was left along the trail, in return for money or a voucher.
As she walked along the parkway trail picking up trash and scattered clothing with the homeless, Melnicoff met people who were living outdoors and listened to their stories. Then, she connected them to the resources that may be available to them, like rehab for alcoholism or drugs.
As a result of the project, all of the people who were living in the camps were moved, either into housing, to rehab or back with their family, Melnicoff said.
Some people, though, like Carey D. Jones, are still living outside.
“The people who still live outside are more hardcore,” Melnicoff said. “I know personally two people out there who wouldn’t want to be inside. One of them might, but they’ve been outside for decades.”
“OLD CANYON DOGS”
Jones is one of those people who doesn’t want to live inside. A military veteran and an artist, Jones said he has lived outdoors in the Moab area for 26 years.
He can sometimes be seen working downtown, where he sells his drawings to tourists. In the past, he has worked with the Parkway Partners project, secured housing with the help of Moab Solutions’ outreach, but only temporarily, before he returned to living outdoors. Recently arrested for public intoxication, he is now serving a 90-day jail sentence.
In a video interview from the Grand County Jail on Memorial Day, Jones said he doesn’t think the word “homeless” is an accurate portrayal of the people who continue to live outdoors in the Moab area.
“There are two types of homeless people. You have the old canyon dogs … like myself … and there’s a different kind of homeless around, the city shopping cart kind,” he said.
Jones has been called “the den mother of the homeless” by some locals — he’s been living outdoors in the Moab area longer than anyone else, he said.
“I would say that I am definitely a hardcore survivalist. There are four of us hardcore survivalists left, and one just moved into a house — good for him. There used to be 10 of us. Three of my friends have frozen to death in the last 10 years,” Jones said.
Jones said that instead of building camps, he goes outside of the city to sleep, and he never sleeps in one location for more than one night. For the most part, he said he enjoys his time living in the desert.
“I love the desert. We’re the old canyon dogs. That’s what I do,” Jones said.
It’s with the use of the grant from The Synergy Company that Melnicoff hopes Parkway Partners will assist the remaining people, like Jones, who are living outside.
“I want to do an updated version of that program because there aren’t camps here now, but there are messy areas. I want to make teams of people going around cleaning the parkway, cleaning up the areas,” Melnicoff said.
She said people will be paid $7-10 an hour for cleaning up the environment, and added that the work will be done under supervision with crew leaders.
But what about someone who might look at the project, see an opportunity to make money, and intentionally say, “I’m going to go make a mess, so I can get paid to clean it up” — has that ever been discussed as a potential negative consequence of the project?
Melnicoff shook her head, “No,” she said. “There’s already enough messes. I mean, there are so many messes all over the place that they can easily find already made ones. I don’t think they would, and they are cleaning up their own mess, and that’s what happened on the parkway: they were creating their own mess, and they were cleaning it.”
“What happens is, when people are cleaning up, and they’re changing their environment around, they see they can change their internal environment,” Melnicoff said.
As the temperature climbed above 80 degrees on Memorial Day, Melnicoff picked up a coat tucked behind a log and a long-sleeved shirt at the base of a tree. The items, despite the warm temperatures, had been left along the trail recently — Melnicoff goes out to check the Mill Creek Parkway nearly every day.
She held the shirt out at arms-length and shook it, reading aloud the printed words: “I’m not bad … just misunderstood.”
The shirt was one more piece to more than a dozen articles of clothing Melnicoff picked up along the Mill Creek Parkway trail. She stuffed the shirt into a mesh bag half-filled with a pair of tennis shoes, women’s tops, socks, kid’s clothing, muddy shorts, cigarette butts, six empty liquor bottles, a ball point pen, aluminum cans, dog poop and used toilet paper.
The items weren’t the result of the busy holiday weekend. It’s a regular occurrence, said Melnicoff, and it has been going on for years.
Danette Grosbeck is a Medicaid and SNAP eligibility specialist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services. She lives within walking distance of the Mill Creek Parkway and was walking the trail with her family when she saw Melnicoff picking up discarded clothing.
“I am concerned about the people who live in the elements,” Grosbeck said.
Grosbeck said she recently saw people around the trail who appeared to have been there for more than one day.
While she doesn’t worry about her personal safety, she said she is worried about the safety of the people who attempt to live outside.
“I know that many of the homeless choose to be that way, for whatever reason,” Grosbeck said. “There are many who are homeless because that’s just how their circumstances are — they’ve lost their job for whatever reason, the economy’s made it so they’ve over-extended themselves, and they’ve lost their ability to have a place to live.”
A NEW OPPORTUNITY
Whether a person is lives outdoors because they choose to, or because they have no other choice, Melnicoff said that with the assistance of the grant, the Parkway Partners project can create an atmosphere where all of the people will want to get help. Last year, she raised over $55,000 for Moab Solutions.
“We feel we have another opportunity to address their needs and nurture an environment that may help them decide to make positive changes,” Melnicoff said.
Melnicoff has assisted 19 people into rehab from the Moab area since the project began.
“Not just the homeless, but (people) from the whole community.” Melnicoff said.
Ending homelessness for the “hardcore” people is more challenging when they have mental health concerns and co-morbid conditions like alcohol and substance misuse.
“I think once they get so addicted to alcohol, their brain chemistry is so altered, they can’t get a place to stay and stay in it,” Melnicoff said.
Jones said that he has issues with periodic binge drinking that began at the age of 12.
“It’s a disease. It’s just the nature of disease,” he said.
Jones said the last time that he thought he would die from the elements of living outdoors was in February, when he was badly frostbitten. Paying Moab’s hardcore homeless for environmental cleanups is seen by Melnicoff as a solution to cleaning up the environment, and a connecting point for getting people the medical attention and housing resources that they need for survival.