2018 Posts

Storage and Why It’s Vital for Denver’s Homeless

Many people who experience homelessness have possessions—a coffee cup, a utensil or two, toothpaste, deodorant, a toothbrush, a water bottle, a jacket, work attire, boots, construction gloves, extra socks and a change of clothes. They have personal items they carry as well—birth certificates, marriage licenses, I.D. cards and pictures of loved ones, to name a few.

Man on his way to the Lawrence Street Community Center (Park Ave. & Broadway)

Man on his way to the Lawrence Street Community Center (Park Ave. & Broadway)

Living life on the streets, walking from place to place, means our guests need to carry these possessions with them. To do this, many guests own luggage and packs to store all of their belongings.

Storage for people experiencing homelessness has always been a topic of conversation, for many reasons, but the main conversation centers around people experiencing homelessness who also have jobs. In 2018, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimated that 40% to 60% of people experiencing homelessness float in and out of part-time and full-time work, which means 40% to 60% of our friends and neighbors need a place to store their belongings while at work.

A lot of people we serve have jobs in the service industry or construction. In most cases, it’s not possible for employers to let their employees leave stuff “in the back” or “in the truck” while they work their shift and asking for permission to do such things is often risky and can feel degrading. Sometimes, especially in the service industry, employers don’t know they are hiring a person who is utilizing shelters for housing. Some employers do and are very happy to help someone who is going through a hard time. But some employers don’t know, and some of our guests feel that if their employer knew of their housing situation, then they would be treated differently.

Day storage for our friends and neighbors isn’t a new problem, but solutions have been complicated. In the past, our shelters have not been designed to store belongings during the day (only at night when people bring their possessions in with them as they sleep).

Inside the Holly Center

The Holly Center is equipped with multiple storage lockers under each bed.

 

Denver Rescue Mission developed the Holly Center with day storage in mind. Men who sleep at the Holly Center are encouraged to leave their belongings in storage lockers under their beds as they leave for the day. This simple idea and extra space have allowed many guests of the Holly Center to go to work without having to tote all of their belongings with them and without fear of being judged.

There is also the Lawrence Street Shelter which offers storage lockers to guests who are part of our Next Step community. Next Step helps men experiencing homelessness move toward stability by connecting them with a caseworker and addressing basic needs like food, shelter and job skills. A key component of providing them with this sense of stability is offering lockers to store their belongings while they go to appointments, job interviews and attend to daily errands our caseworkers ask of them.20180516_oao_0284

Storage alone is not the end-all answer to solving homelessness in Denver, but it’s an important element. For our neighbors experiencing homelessness, a safe place to store possessions provides a spark of stability.

Holly Center Making Immediate Impact on Denver’s Homeless Population

They asked us to grab a token as we walked into the Holly Center. The token was made of wood and in the shape of a circle, about the size of a dollar coin. The one I got had the number 50 stamped with crimson ink in the center of it.

I would guess that nearly 200 people attended the opening of the Holly Center that day, most of them were employees of Denver Rescue Mission and others were city officials and our compassionate donors. The ceremony included speakers, Brad Meuli (President/CEO of Denver Rescue Mission) and Michael B. Hancock, to name a couple.

Crowd at the Holly Center grand opening

The crowd at the Holly Center grand opening

Toward the end of the event, Brad told us to look at the wooden piece we grabbed when we walked in. He said that each number on the token represented a bed at the Holly Center. My piece represented bed 50.

I remember walking over to the bed, bed 50. I sat down on it and rested my hands on the smooth mattress cover. I felt the urge to pray out loud. I can’t be sure what I said–I don’t remember. But I remember envisioning a man who was probably hurting—physically, from being outdoors in the weather on his feet all morning and afternoon. But also, maybe emotionally hurting too, from not having a family or friends to help provide for him. I prayed to God that whoever the man was that slept on bed 50 would experience restoration and a new life.

It must have been two or three days later when Kevin came to the clinic for an appointment (I’m the Clinic Supervisor at the Lawrence Street Shelter). Kevin is a conversationalist, so as he was waiting in our lobby he began chatting with me, telling me about his day and what was going on in his life. The first thing he spoke of was his experience at our new Holly Center. “It’s so big and nice,” he said. He went on and on about it. “The showers are so spacious. They have huge restrooms and storage during the day. I just can’t believe it!”

Inside the Holly Center

Inside the Holly Center

Just out of curiosity, I asked him what bed he was assigned to, and he said “bed 50.”

My eyes lit up; he must have been startled at how surprised I was at his response. I carried the wooden token with me in my pocket every day as a reminder of why we do what we do at the Mission. It’s not about us or me; it’s about people, helping people who are experiencing homelessness and poverty. I reached into my pocket and showed him the token with his bed number on it. I hugged him and told him I’d been praying for him.

Kevin's wooden chip

The wooden chip

I’ll never forget the smile he had on his face. But it really wasn’t me who put that smile on his face. Sure, it was a response to the words I said to him. But, it was our donors’ that built a shelter for Kevin, and men just like him. And more than that, it was the generosity of amazing people in this city that provided a life-changing experience for Kevin.

You see, what’s great about the Holly Center shelter is that it is located just one block away from The Crossing, where our New Life Program is held. When men stay at the Holly Center, they often interact with men in our program, and they begin to form relationships with staff members who are familiar with the program. It’s those connections that help inspire people to transition from emergency shelters, like Holly Center, to long-term rehabilitation programs like the New Life Program. And, in Kevin’s case, it’s working.

Kevin seated on a bed at the Holly Center

Kevin, NLP participant, seated on his old bed at the Holly Center

Kevin has transitioned from living in a shelter into our New Life Program, and he is on his way to finding affordable housing. His change didn’t start with my prayer, although I’m sure that helped. His change didn’t begin in the program. It started with our donors’ decision to give, to make a difference in the lives of people experiencing homelessness. I think Kevin said it best, “I don’t think I would have thought about joining the program and taking steps to further my life had it not been for the Holly Center.”

Today, I’m A Full-Time Dad

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Being a good dad doesn’t happen by accident. Providing for a family takes intentionality, commitment and love.

 

Dwight grew up in a good home. He grew up in the church and his parents were committed to loving him well. But at 15 years-old, Dwight went searching for a new family, one that would let him live a life that he wanted—no rules, no convictions. “I joined a gang when I was 15,” he says. “My parents were there for me; they treated me right, but I was looking for a different kind of family.”

 

Dwight spent 15 years in a gang. During that time he began a family of his own, and while his son, Jonathan, was growing up, Dwight was living on the streets in California doing what people in gangs do. “I didn’t care about anything, not even hygiene. I wouldn’t change my shoes, and I remember one time my wife had to peel the socks off my feet. I didn’t go home often, but I’d go for a month or so, and when I did, I’d sleep for days.”

 

All the while, Jonathan was at home with his mom. “It wasn’t the easiest childhood,” says Jonathan. “At one point my dad wasn’t home at all. Then he was there on and off, but when he was at home, deep down, he knew he wanted to stay there. I think he had to defeat whatever it was keeping him on the streets.”

 

Gang life and drugs were keeping Dwight from being a good father. “For a long time, I had no convictions of what I did and who I did it to,” says Dwight. “I had a choice, and I chose the streets, the gang and drugs over my family.”

 

One day, when Dwight went back for getaway from the street, his wife said enough was enough. “She told me that until I got help, I couldn’t come home. She allowed me to wash clothes and shower, but then she said, ‘you have to go.’ She wouldn’t let me sleep there anymore.”

 

Dwight was homeless for 10 months before he reached out to Denver Rescue Mission.

 

In May 2017, he joined the Next Step community and three weeks later he was accepted into the New Life Program. “The New Life Program…it basically saved my life,” says Dwight. “I’ve been through too much; I’ve been beat down, left for dead. I’ve done been through it all, but I’m here now. I remember where I came from, but the first time in my life, I know where I’m going.”

 

During his time in the program, Dwight has reconnected with Jonathan. The two are still navigating their relationship and strengthening it, but it’s never been so good. “This is the best Father’s Day I’ve had, says Dwight. “I’ve missed out on a lot. And a lot of that I can’t get back. But I’m here now; I’m not a part-time dad. I’m a full-time dad, and I’m living for Jesus and my children.”

 

‘I’m glad that he’s here and doing what he has to do,” says Jonathan. “Our relationship is top notch. If I have questions, I know who to ask; he’s stepping into the role of my father.”

 

At the Mission, we love hearing stories of redemption and families reconnected — like Dwight and Jonathan — especially around Father’s Day when we’re reminded of the vast impact that our fathers have in our lives. Happy Father’s Day from our Mission family to yours.

Faces of the Mission :: John

JOHN

“I just got out of prison; I did three and a half years,” says John. “I came to Denver to do ironwork, and because I’m a big Peyton Manning fan. I tried to get here before he retired, but they wouldn’t let me out of prison, and I couldn’t escape.”

John laughs, but he’s serious—not about the escaping prison part, he wouldn’t do that. But he’s serious about the Peyton Manning part; John came here because he loves Peyton.

“I went to Indianapolis and saw some games when he played there. I wanted to see him in Denver, but he retired before I could get here.”

His dream to see Peyton play one more time is gone, and John knows that. But he’s got other goals, better goals.

“Now that I’m here, I want to get a job and a place and get back on my feet. I go to work on Monday. A guy told me he’d give me a job doing ironwork.”

He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his phone and scrolls through his photo album.

“This is the work I do,” he says. “This one is of me in Idaho, eight stories. This one is in Savannah, Georgia. And this one is in Seattle, Washington; it was only three stories.”

He’s showing me selfies of him standing at the top of buildings that he helped construct. He’s smiling at the camera, and I can’t help but laugh. Everything about the man sitting in front of me is pleasant. He talks like a true southern man — straightforward and unhurried. He jokes and smiles, laughs and even cries.

“How does a man like you become homeless,” I ask.

John puts his hands on the table. He glances out the window and stares into the distance. I can’t be sure what John’s looking for, or at. He nods his head as if to affirm my assumption—that a man like him doesn’t belong here, on the street, homeless, without a family or a job.

“Most of us men out there are taught to be dominant, an alpha male. My wife didn’t like that; she thought I was harsh, not toward our kids, but toward her. I wasn’t trying to be that way. I was trying to be the leader. I got depressed, and when I get depressed, I turn to alcohol, and then I get behind the wheel and drive. That’s what sent me to prison.”

John reaches for his phone, again. “I don’t show too many people these, so …”

His voice fades with the smell of his lukewarm coffee. He scrolls through his photo album, and this time he pulls up pictures of his children. “I haven’t seen them in years,” he says. “All I want is to be with them, again. But I messed up; I drank too much. I acted like I was on top of the world, and I did everything I shouldn’t have done.”

I haven’t seen John again since the day I interviewed him back in March. I can’t be sure where he’s at, and I’d like to suggest that he’s doing well, on his way to overcoming his alcoholism and mending relationships with his children. But I don’t know those things.

As we walked back to the Lawrence Street Community Center that day, John said, “Hopefully there won’t be any more roadblocks for me; hopefully I get to see my kids.”

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Editor/Photographer, offering insights and real-life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Fort Collins Rescue Mission is Honoring Volunteers this Month!

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Fort Collins Rescue Mission and Harvest Farm Honoring Volunteers this Month

Here at the Mission and Harvest Farm, volunteers are our heroes. They help us prepare and serve meals to guests with a caring smile, dedicate time to mentor and encourage program participants, as well as share messages of hope and possibilities of a new life. Volunteers are an invaluable resource that help our organization flourish as we do God’s work.

Last year, volunteers provided over 14,000 hours of service at Fort Collins Rescue Mission and Harvest Farm. This is equivalent to having an additional 6 full-time employees! It’s because of their dedicated service, that we’re able to meet the needs of the broken and lost in our community.

April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month and the Mission, along with numerous non-profit organizations across the country, are taking some time to celebrate. Throughout #VolunteerAppreciationWeek (April 15-21), we will honor and thank our volunteers for their tireless service.

We’re excited to share the passion and commitment of four featured volunteers. We are so grateful for them, and all our amazing volunteers, for everything they do to #SERVENoCo!

 

Jim Lord

Jim Lord

Jim has been serving warm meals to our homeless guests at Fort Collins Rescue Mission for seven years. He enjoys filling this need in the community and says, “It keeps me humble and helps me appreciate what I have more often.”

Jim loves trying to make our guests smile. He has made it his mission to help our guests feel important while they are here.

We appreciate the work you have put in at Fort Collins Rescue Mission Jim. Thank you!

 

Laura Steven

Laura Stevens

Laura has been volunteering with Fort Collins Rescue Mission for the past two years. She loves being a Mentor and helping our homeless guests. Specifically, she has a heart for helping women feel good about themselves. Often, she donates clothing to fulfil this passion.

“Being a Mentor has been the most fulfilling experience at the Mission so far. In the midst of sadness, challenges and pain, we manage to find the humor and faith and laugh a lot together.” – Laura

Thank you Laura for showing compassion to our guests at Fort Collins Rescue Mission!

 

Marilyn Calcatera

Marilyn Calcatera

Marilyn wanted to use her hair cutting skills to do good in the community. That’s how she got connected to Harvest Farm.  Each month, over the past year, she has been offering free haircuts to men in the New Life Program.

She loves being able to have spiritual conversations with the men in the program and helps encourage them in this journey of their lives. “I can show some motherly love, provide encouragement and share a hug” said Marilyn.

Thank you for using your skills to touch the lives of our New Life Program participants, Marilyn!

 

Ryan Carter

Ryan Carter

Ryan serves as a preacher for chapel services at Fort Collins Rescue Mission and he has been doing this for the past year. His goal is to assist the staff in connecting the Mission with pastors and community leaders to maximize the care and service to those in need.

“I see the Mission’s guests as some of the richest and most gifted people in our city.  Darkness has marginalized many people who are desperately needed and deeply loved.”  Ryan loves the Mission because he gets to work with Jesus in the restoration process!

Ryan’s most impactful experience at the Mission was preaching to a man that had never been to church before or heard the Gospel.  “I saw this man two weeks later, and he grabbed me and said, “Everything is changing!”  He had started to read the word of God and exclaimed, “It’s really making sense to me!”  Also, in that two week span, he was restored with his mother in San Diego, and was leaving that week to be with her again.  I will meet this man in heaven!” Ryan shared.

Thank you Ryan for diligently doing God’s work with us at Fort Collins Rescue Mission!

These are just a few examples of passionate volunteers committed to doing the Lord’s work alongside us. If you’ve been inspired to give back and make a difference, we encourage you to serve with us! There are many ways to get involved.  To learn more and sign up, visit: http://bit.ly/Volunteer4FCRM