Luis Lopez II
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State, local legislators meet to discuss current important issues for city, county

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On Monday, Dec. 9, local and state government officials gathered, along with local leaders and business owners, to discuss a variety of topics regarding both the progress and needed improvements of the City of Trinidad and Las Animas County. Of the items on the agenda, much of the meeting was spent on the issues of substance abuse and homelessness; a problem many have stressed they would like to see addressed.

Substance abuse, homelessness

Leading into this discussion was INBank President Joey DeGarbo who shared his experience with a family member having been led down the path of substance abuse. He also explained how rehab wasn’t really the fix-all that many often believe it to be.

“Rehab will take your money and put you in a support group,” said DeGarbo, “but when you’re in a support group your surrounded by the same people doing the same drugs.”

DeGarbo also expressed that because of this individual’s struggle with substance abuse, mental illness and homelessness also came into play as it does with others with the same addictions.

DeGarbo said he felt it was important that the community communicate with each other about these problems, which are sometimes hard to talk about, in hopes to keep others from the same path.

“We have an issue here in the community,” said DeGarbo, “and we need to come together as a village to see what we can do to save this town.”

Following DeGarbo sharing his personal experience, Las Animas County Commissioner Felix Lopez came up to speak about what the county is doing to provide some possible solutions. Lopez began by highlighting the importance of continuing this dialogue of needing to combat the issue.

“What do we do from here,” said Commissioner F. Lopez. “It’s got to be more than just conversation. We’ve got to engage and be honest with each other. The fact that Mr. DeGarbo had the courage to stand up here and share that story tells us that there are many more in our community experiencing that as well.”

Lopez continued by stating the county is committed to bringing in services and starting services that can help to address the substance abuse and mental health problems the community faces.

“We have had two medically assisted mobile treatment units that are operating here in Las Animas County right now,” said Lopez. “Recently Las Animas and Huerfano Counties Health Department worked together to secure $400,000 in grant monies to use for continuing our efforts to provide behavioral health, education, and assessment of what is happening in our communities.”

The county is also working to assemble data and input to form a blueprint of local mental health and homelessness issues as well as possible solutions moving forward, to present to Governor Polis outlining needs.

“This way we can find ways to make behavioral health services more effective,” said Executive Director for Las Animas/Huerfano Counties District Health Department Kim Gonzales. “The blueprint will include the action items needed for implementation.”

Gonzales stated that many substance abusers become addicted to opioid related drugs due to prescription medication.

“We’re seeing that pharmaceutical opioids have been the major culprit,” said Gonzales. “Opioid prescription fill rates are higher in Las Animas and Huerfano County than the state average. Both counties have higher rates with more than one fill per person. Four out of five heroine users report they received their first opioid from a medical provider.”

In tackling these issues, Gonzales said they are focusing on youth to prevent drug addiction before it starts.

“Our theory of public health is looking at an upstream approach,” said Gonzales. “Some of this work moving forward is the medical assisted treatment van and spearheading coalition work in Las Animas and Huerfano counties. But we’re specifically focused on youth prevention and risk/protective factors.”

Around the topic of homelessness, Meghan Dollar with Colorado Municipal League said there are possible solutions other cities are attempting that could help, but it takes the community being open to providing needed services.

“Services for homeless are predominantly focused around bed space and shelters, permanent supportive housing, getting people to substance abuse and behavioral health providers, and criminal justice programs,” said Dollar. “It’s all about what can we do to get that individual housed first and then get them to other services they need.”

Dollar also commented that although big cities may have many resources to figure some of this out, there are many instances of small communities providing effective solutions.

“Sometimes there’s an assumption that big cities have better access to resources,” said Dollar, “but rural areas have also been great leaders in Colorado around combating homelessness.”

Community growth

In addition to addressing serious topics that many see as important issues to be addressed, there was also quite a bit of dialogue regarding many positive things happening in the community.

Starting out the round table was TSJC President Dr. Rhonda Epper saying there were many things the local community college would be adding to what they offer students.

“We’re launching a bachelor of science in nursing next year,” said Epper, “which is our first bachelor’s degree we’ve offered. We also just launched a paramedics certification program this year and we can accept 6 students at a time so we don’t flood the market.”

Dr. Epper explained there is a big need for educators in our rural areas so the school has started a program to allow students to receive a teaching degree, all while staying in Trinidad.

“Our T-Prep partnership with the University of Colorado is an exciting program because it allows us to train teachers which are badly needed in our community,” said Epper.

“Participants can go all the way through their bachelors’ degree and full certification without leaving Trinidad.”

Dr. Epper also stated because she has had so many people request more building trades, the college would be starting a certification program based on National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) curriculum, an industry standard curriculum.

Another big project the school is working on is getting the Massari sound and lights updated so they can add a Technical Theater program in the Fall of 2020.

“Students that graduate with this degree will have transferrable skills that are applicable in a variety of settings,” said Epper, “such as museum studies, trade shows, and event management. We’re also working on a grant to update the Massari theatre and this will not only let us put on more performances for the community but also allow us to be able to train our students using modern technology.”

Wrapping up her presentation, Dr. Epper said they were excited to be working on a trail building certification course to help with the development of Fishers Peak State Park, stating that staff is currently developing the curriculum.

“Our staff will be attending a National Trail Builders convention in March and we’re currently working on the curriculum for that,” said Epper.

Trinidad School District No. 1 Administrator Dr. Bonnie Aaron also presented an explanation and update of the BEST grant they would be receiving and the work ahead of them to renovate the Trinidad Middle School. She also stated the high school would also benefit from the mill levy that passed allowing them to use some of those funds to perform some needed upgrades.

Several others, including Trinidad Mayor Phil Rico came forward to give an update of many things happening in the community. Fishers Peak State Park, Space to Create, and the Fox renovation are just a few of the exciting things in the works that will provide huge economic benefit presenters said.

Following her presentation on the Space to Create project, Marilyn Leuszler said that she was amazed to see all the things happening in the community across the board and added these accomplishments were a result of team work and cooperation.

“Its so exciting to see all these people work together and that’s the biggest thing that this community offers is the collaborative and partnering spirit,” said Leuszler. “We work hard to find ways of solving problems and just don’t give up. Everything adds together to make Trinidad the best rural community in the state of Colorado.”

Topics of substance abuse, homelessness, community growth addressed at length

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