Holly Center 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.”

Plans to Build A New $2.5 Million Shelter :: The Holly Center

We have an exciting announcement to share!

Earlier this month, after much prayer and consideration, the Mission’s Board of Directors approved a plan to renovate a section of our current Ministry Outreach Center (MOC), our warehouse facility in northeast Park Hill, to create a new overnight shelter for men called Holly Center. This renovation will provide 228 beds, the first new permanent shelter beds for men in the City of Denver since 1989, as well as shower and restroom facilities. All guests will be transported to Holly Center from our Lawrence Street Community Center downtown in the evening and back again in the morning by bus, in partnership with the City of Denver. Construction will begin as early as May, with a projected opening in the fall of 2017. JHL Constructors will be the general contractor. The project’s architect is Wayne LaGrone of DEC Architects.

 

For the last decade, it has been the Mission’s desire to expand overnight shelter services downtown to meet the growing demand of people in need. Since 2012, in order to meet these growing community needs for shelter, the Mission has partnered with the City of Denver to operate an overflow shelter in a city-owned facility offsite – currently an office building near I-70 & Peoria – which offers mats on the floor and no shower facilities on site. Originally, it was a cold-weather shelter, but has since expanded, out of necessity, to a year-round facility.

During the last two years, our leadership team developed plans to build a more dignified permanent shelter inside the MOC, and we are pleased that God is now opening the doors to make Holly Center a reality. We have zoning and neighborhood approval, and are just a few weeks from beginning construction. While we still expect to operate a City-owned overflow shelter in the future, Holly Center will add both capacity and stability to Denver’s emergency shelter network at a time that it is desperately needed.

Lives are transformed every single day because of our community of supporters, and we are grateful for the opportunity to continue to minister to those experiencing homelessness and poverty in our community, not only at the Holly Center, but at all of our Mission locations now and in the future.

In the upcoming months, we ask for your prayers over this project and God’s ministry to the poor we serve.