SALIDA, Colo. — Every mountain town in Colorado has a unique culture that makes it special. In Salida, the characters are what make the city.
On a hot summer day in June, locals and tourists can be found along the Arkansas River, enjoying the nearby shops and sights. However, everyone there is struck by the impacts of inflation on Salida.
“It seems like since gas prices are really high that not many people are traveling. So, a lot of our numbers are way lower than they were this time last year," Bianca Gonzalez said from behind the bar at Currents Steak and Seafood Restaurant.
Gonzalez said it can be discouraging when business is slow.
“For the girls that do live far away, it's very beneficial that they make some sort of money when they come here because of how the gas prices are," Gonzalez said. “We're forever short staffed."
Beyond the food and gas prices and their immediate impacts, residents of Salida have long struggled with a housing crisis.
"It's been more than just inflation. It really goes back to when COVID hit, and people were no longer tethered to their cubicles, their desks, their offices. And so, we had a real big influx of remote workers that had the ability to come up here," Mayor Dan Shore said. “A lot of times people would come up here and they'd be able to pay cash for a property, versus a lot of locals who might have had to go through some creative financing to try to secure the same.”
“People want to live here. People want to work here. We can find staff, but they can't find housing. So, we lose that staff very quickly.”
Bringing Everyone Through the Crisis of Housing (BETCH) is a nonprofit organization in Salida 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 require paystubs," Salty Riggs said from a bench in the park. “All the tourist industry, people that live in their cars, they actually can have a place to stay in town. It hopefully will encourage them to stay in the community and to get a job in some of our restaurants.”
Riggs is one of the people with BETCH Salida who has worked to make the safe outdoor space a reality. She said currently they can fit up to 15 cars in the park.
“We've already lost 20% of our restaurants in town," explained Riggs. “Most of our restaurants that are still open have severely limited their hours just because of the staffing issues. ... We help them get staffed and help keep the staff in town, then hopefully we can save the town.”
She said living out of a car is part of the culture in Salida, but the housing crisis has changed that.
“Living in your car is emergency housing. I mean, we're just at that point," Riggs said. “It's kind of sad to tell them, hey, you get to 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 town, it's illegal to camp in the city limits. And so, to provide a space where people are allowed to legally exist is really nice.”
Riggs hopes this space provides one solution to what she sees as a massive problem in the community.
To learn more about the safe outdoor space, visit BETCH Salida's website where information about living, working, or volunteering at the site is available.