VALLEY — The purpose of HOPE Week is to educate the community about the realities of homelessness and poverty within the San Luis Valley.
Operating within the Valley, La Puente strives to meet immediate needs and empower people to live independently, with dignity. And that objective does not discriminate to any particular lifestyle. Due to the vastness of the Valley, there exists an overlooked and misunderstood community of people who choose to live life a little differently than most out on the “flats.” Drawn to the idea of living off the land and owning affordable property in a beautiful area, people come from all over the country to find isolation, spiritual awareness, or sometimes just a simple life.
But living in the wilderness of the San Luis Valley has its dangers and downsides. As a gentleman residing in the Iraqi flats, located south of Ft. Garland, described it, “The mountains either love and accept you here or they kick you out.”
This community lives in some of the most undeveloped parts of the San Luis Valley, where summers are scorching hot, and winters are frigid, the roads are not plowed after snowstorms, and people are often forced to stay inside for days, sometimes weeks at a time without sufficient food or wood for heat. Residents of the flats and other isolated parts of the San Luis Valley live 20-30 miles from grocery stores, banks, etc., making life on the flats difficult life year-round. There are also problems of domestic abuse, mental illness, and child neglect.
The Rural Outreach Initiative is La Puente’s response to meeting these needs. Rural Outreach Initiative Case Manager Matt Little started his job in March with an understanding that he would be helping people in the flats. But to Matt, the scope of his work is not just limited to the flats. As Matt said, “Wherever I’m needed, I’ll help.”
Since Matt has started his position, he has helped over 70 clients from all over the San Luis Valley. Clients like Sue, a 71-year-old retired woman from Georgia, moved to San Luis after losing her husband in hopes of finding a simple life with affordable rent and a beautiful backyard. When winter came, and temperatures started to drop to as low as -30 degrees at night, Sue grew desperate for warmth. She didn’t even have to call Matt; he arrived unsolicited with a truck-full of wood to help.
Matt’s job is not just about giving people basic resources to get through the winter; It’s about maintaining the dignity of clients and being a friend. With clients facing mental illness or substance abuse, Matt is not only a friend who brings wood regularly so that they will have enough for the winter, he also checks on the clients in a dignified manner where they don’t feel subject to help that can sometimes feel patronizing. Matt serves with respect and dignity, which is what La Puente is all about; expanding the scope of how and where to help and treating people with dignity.
As Matt described, “they’re not just my clients; they’re my people, my friends, my neighbors.”