SALIDA, Colorado – Each mountain town in Colorado has a unique culture that makes it special. In Salida, the characters make the city.
On a hot summer day in June, locals and tourists alike line the Arkansas River, enjoying the nearby shopping and sights. However, everyone is struck by the effects of inflation on Salida.
“It seems that since gas prices are really high, not many people travel. So a lot of our numbers are way down from this time last year,” Bianca Gonzalez said from behind the bar at Currents Steak and Seafood restaurant.
Gonzalez said it can be disheartening when business is slow.
“For the girls who live far away, it’s very advantageous that they earn some kind of money when they come here because of the price of gas,” Gonzalez said. “We are still understaffed.”
Beyond food and gas prices and their immediate impacts, residents of Salida have long been grappling with a housing crisis.
“It was more than just inflation. It really goes back to when COVID hit, and people were no longer tethered to their cubicles, their desks, their desks. And so, we had a real influx of remote workers who had the ability to come here,” Mayor Dan Shore said. “A lot of times people came here and could pay cash for property, compared to a lot of locals who would have had to resort to creative financing to try to achieve the same.”
“People want to live here. People want to work here. We can find staff, but they can’t find accommodation. So we are losing that staff very quickly.
Bianca Gonzalez, Current Restaurant
Bringing Everyone Through the Crisis of Housing (BETCH) is a Salida nonprofit that launched a new safe outdoor space on Tuesday, June 14 in Centennial Park. The safe outdoor space is designed for people who work in the community but cannot afford to live there.
“We need pay stubs,” Salty Riggs said from a bench in the park. “The whole tourism industry, people who live in their cars, can actually have housing in town. Hopefully that will encourage them to stay in the community and get jobs in some of our restaurants.
Riggs is one of the people with BETCH Salida who has worked to make safe outdoor space a reality. She said currently they can accommodate up to 15 cars in the park.
“We’ve already lost 20% of our restaurants in town,” Riggs explained. “Most of our restaurants that are still open have severely limited their hours just because of staffing issues. … We’re helping them find staff and keep staff in town, so hopefully we can save the town.
She said living in a car is part of Salida’s culture, but the housing crisis has changed that.
“Living in your car is emergency housing. I mean, we’re just at this point,” Riggs said. “It’s kind of sad to tell them, hey, you can live in your car in the park. But it’s also kind of exciting because it’s illegal to sleep in your car in this city, it’s illegal to camp within the city limits. And so providing a space where people are allowed to legally exist is really good.
Riggs hopes this space will provide a solution to what she sees as a huge problem in the community.
To learn more about the safe outdoor space, visit the BETCH Salida website where information about living, working or volunteering at the site is available.