GRAND JUNCTION, CO – Stepping into The Joseph Center, a day shelter and resource office on Belford Avenue for individuals and families facing homelessness and devastating challenges, is like, well, stepping into any other busy, bustling office.
This is where Pooka Campbell, a volunteer with the local Solidarity Not Charity group, has her “office”. It’s a small, windowless room down a short hallway that separates the brightly lit lobby from the large storage rooms in the back.
Campbell grew up in Utah, where she says she “wasn’t of the religion”, and because “I looked different from most people, I was always, you know, ostracized.”
Campbell felt a natural empathy for others whom she saw as being marginalized just as she was. “I started to see what was happening in our LGBTQ community, and the ones who were being kicked out of their homes for being [gay].”
Young men would come to her because they had come out as gay to their families and had been kicked out of their homes and had nowhere else to go. Some would end up doing drugs or would be forced into prostitution because they felt they had no other options. Campbell herself struggled with financial and physical challenges, and when she came to Grand Junction she knew there were social service agencies in the area who provided different services for people who need help, but she didn’t feel comfortable going to them.
“I didn’t want to go to these places to get help, because they aren’t unique, or they don’t understand [you].”
Campbell discovered Solidarity Not Charity, an all-volunteer coalition of mutual aid groups that work together to freely distribute and receive goods and services for the benefit of the community and each other. Groups include Barkley’s Hope, which offers free pet vaccinations and referrals to partner veterinarians; the Frozen Hobo street team, which provides emergency aid to houseless individuals during winter; and the Feed Team, which distributes food donations and even freshly cooked meals at various locations around the city; among many others.
“They saved my life so many times, but they do it in a mutual manner, where it’s empowering. They’re not there to save you, drug you up, tell you how it is, you know, strip you of your identity, you know, stuff like that. Yeah, more like empowering, and then I saw what they did with the houseless community, with poverty, it was like, ding! I felt like I finally met my tribe.”
Campbell began volunteering with the various groups, attending the Feed events, and before long she found herself on the other side of the table, so to speak. Now she’s become a familiar face to other volunteers and the houseless community, and she’s a regular presence at the Feed and other events.
Every Saturday afternoon at 4:00 pm at Whitman Park, SNC organizes a food distribution where anyone is welcome to bring donations of food, toiletry and personal care items, beverages, and other essentials, that they then distribute to anyone who needs them, no questions asked. On Tuesday mornings, they’re in the parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist church on Ouray, behind the central library, where other SNC-affiliated groups like Barkley’s Hope and Unity Station Cutz, which provides free hair cuts, also join them.
“We’re always talking about trying to get the people that we serve and listening to them. We need to come to them and on their terms, because a lot of it is, you know, ‘Why aren’t they coming to the meetings, why aren’t they doing this’. We tried, you know, and a lot of people are jaded.”
Campbell is heartened by the emergence of groups like Right & Wrong (RAW), whose members advocate for basic human rights. “And now, people are coming out more [and asking], ‘Is this the right thing to do?’ It shouldn’t be political. And that’s how it used to be.”
Now, with the pandemic, many of the individuals that SNC serves are especially vulnerable. Campbell said that many of the people they serve either are suspicious of government authorities, who have not been welcoming to them in the past, or they often don’t qualify for some of the traditional outreach social agencies because of certain rules and regulations.
For example, with lockdown restrictions, some shelters won’t admit people without an ID, but with limited government services obtaining an ID has become difficult at best. SNC works to fill that gap and ensure that everyone is provided aid while allowing them to retain their dignity and humanity. They’re working with local organizations on a plan to get a “Covid address” that houseless people can use to get an ID, a mobile phone, and quality for food stamps.
“I want it in a way that, if we all became homeless, that we would know that we would be safe. Is there any way we could do that? Because that’s for everybody, that’s not for our homies. […] Wouldn’t it be better […] if you knew that you were in a safe place right when you were houseless […] that you can call a number and they had something for you right away, that would keep you and your family safe?”
Solidary Not Charity welcomes anyone who would like to help their fellow community members. For more information, go to their website:
Or visit their Facebook page, which lists all of their upcoming events: