Homelessness In Denver Posts

Initiative 300 – Not A Solution

20180516_oao_0272At Denver Rescue Mission people are first! People who face challenges such as mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, family breakup, job loss, and more. We have been serving people with these needs for 127 years. It’s not just what happens inside of our walls that matters but also outside our walls.

On May 7, the Denver community votes on Initiative 300, also called Right to Survive. The title itself is misleading, without explanation it leaves a feeling that if you are not in favor of this you somehow believe people do not have a right to a bed, food, and health care. If this initiative passes, what happens outside of our walls will look drastically different.

If voters decide to pass this, our job at Denver Rescue Mission becomes much more difficult. I am afraid that our staff who go outside of our building to help people could be charged for harassment. The trash surrounding our downtown buildings becomes more difficult to manage. Camping in public places becomes acceptable, park curfews become non-existent and unpermitted food distribution becomes tolerable. The health and safety of our community is threatened. Sadly, Initiative 300 does nothing to help those living on the street.

At our very core, we want to help the most vulnerable people in our community. That’s what the Mission’s done for the past 127 years and will continue to do for years to come. If you live in Denver, please vote “No” on Initiative 300 and wherever you live please help us by volunteering, donating, or simply engaging in conversations with city officials and others in our community to work on the complicated issue of homelessness. I want to see people experiencing homelessness get the help they need, that’s why Denver Rescue Mission is here.

Three Things to Give Our Homeless Neighbors Other Than Money

Homeless-Portrait_Jose_11-18-14_08One of the most common concerns Denver Rescue Mission staff members get goes something like this, “I want to help the homeless woman (or man) I see standing on the corner, but I don’t want to give them money, how can I help?”

It’s a great question, and it comes from a good place. People in Denver want to help, but in doing so, they don’t want to enable unhealthy spending habits or an addiction. It may go without saying, but not all people living on the street are homeless because of poor decisions. In fact, of the people Denver Rescue Mission serves in its programs, the number one reason people say they are experiencing homelessness is because of job loss.

Wayne, a STAR Transitional Program participant at Denver Rescue Mission, talked about how he and his family became homeless. “I was working construction, setting up roadblocks for work crews. I was living in an apartment, paying rent. But then work started to slow down and they were forced to lay a lot of us off. When that happened, I felt worthless, like the biggest failure in the world. I couldn’t find another job in time to pay the rent. It spiraled downward from there. Before we found the Mission, we were homeless for nearly two years.”

Twenty-nine percent of the people enrolled in Mission programs have stories like Wayne’s—they lost their job, they couldn’t afford rent and then they became homeless. But the concern many people have when it comes to giving a homeless person money isn’t without base. According to Denver Rescue Mission’s data, the number two reason people say they’re homeless is because of substance abuse.

So, that concern you might have about giving a person on the street cash can be valid, and because of that, here are three simple things you can give a person experiencing homelessness other than money.

1.) Acknowledgement
If you commute to work, and you pass by the same person every morning on your route, simply acknowledging the person’s presence will make a difference. It’s commonplace for commuters to drive by a person and look the other way or avoid making eye contact. But a simple acknowledgment like a smile or a wave will remind that person that someone sees them and that they matter.

2.) Hygiene Products
Think about all the hygiene items you use when you go to bed at night or wake up in the morning. Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, comb, shampoo, etc. These are all essential needs for our homeless neighbors.

3.) Socks
Some people living on the street have one pair of shoes and one pair of socks. Places, like the Lawrence Street Community Center, provides them with an opportunity to wash their clothes for free, but a pack of socks would go a long way for many people on the street.

For more ideas on how you can give back to your homeless and hurting neighbors, visit DenverRescueMission.org/GiveBack125.

Veteran Finds Hope & Stability Through ‘Next Step’ service.

Donald

Donald’s childhood was not fair. His step-father was addicted. Every time the welfare check showed up in the mailbox, his step-dad would be the first to grab it, using all of it on drugs. “When I was 18, I joined the Air Force,” says Donald. “But only because I wanted to get out of the environment I was in.”

Donald found success in the military. He progressed up the chain of command, becoming a sergeant. But during that same time, he was smoking marijuana, popping pills and living a lifestyle he knew all too well, from his step-dad. When Donald got out of the Air Force he went home and lived with his mom.

“Six months after I moved in with her, she died,” he says. “I didn’t grieve; I didn’t try to be strong. I went off in my own world, and I went out of control.”

Donald started using crack cocaine. For the next 33 years, when he felt alone and weary, he turned to drugs, causing him to go in and out of homelessness. “One day it hit me … I’m going to die,” says Donald. “That wasn’t something I was prepared for. There was a lot of people out there who were disappointed with me—my mom, my sister, my kids. One day, I decided enough was enough.”

The day is etched in Donald’s memory. “It was April 15, 2018,” he says. That’s the day he began looking for help, and the day his sobriety started. As a veteran, Donald has access to several services, knowing that, he began calling around. “Everywhere I called, they told me that they were full, that there’s a waiting list. But I didn’t have anywhere to wait. I was on the street.”

On April 21, Donald found Next Step, a service provided by Denver Rescue Mission that offers men an opportunity to create a tailored path toward permanent and sustainable living situations. Each Next Step community member is paired with a case worker, assigned a permanent bed and expected to fulfill community involvement hours, such as helping to clean up after meals. Members also work closely with their case workers to prepare an individualized plan suitable to their specific needs. For some, that is a long-term rehabilitation program. For others, it’s transitional housing or moving back in with relatives. For Donald, he and his case worker have located a program that will provide him with affordable housing.

“I should be accepted in the program in the next few months,” says Donald. “For now, I’m just thankful for Denver Rescue Mission. I’m here in Next Step working with my case worker, working a full-time job and saving money.” Donald has also been working on one more thing, too, his sobriety. “I’ve been sober for over four months!”

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.”

Faces of the Mission :: John

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“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.

Faces of the Mission :: Lori

Lori Sometimes people make statements that aren’t true. They say things like, “I’m good” when in fact they aren’t well. These are the statements often heard in passing, as one walks by acquaintances and colleagues in the office or the hallway.

It was mid-afternoon on a Friday when Jennifer and I walked by Lori, who was seated at a table inside the courtyard at the Lawrence Street Community Center. Jennifer has a contagious personality, one that often lends itself to laughter and long conversations.

“How are you?” asked Jennifer.

Lori turned toward Jennifer and me, her back to the table. “I’ve had better days,” she said.

Lori isn’t one to make cordial conversation, the type that people expect in passing, at least. Her words reveal more truth than that, and so does her story.

“When I was eight years old my mom married a pedophile,” said Lori. “He not only abused me, he also got my brother, my cousin and the girl up the street. And those are just the ones I know about.”

As she told about her childhood, Lori did so with a sense of peace; not like the type of peace a person experiences during meditation. It was a different kind of peace, less reflective and more of a graceful confidence.

Lori 2To this day, I struggle to understand where Lori’s peacefulness comes.

I think back to my own story. My childhood was different than most. I was born with a birth defect. As a kid, I endured surgery after surgery after surgery, so many that I lost count after the eighth. None of my friends could relate to the feeling, to the anxiety and the fear that comes with being operated on as a child. I navigated those experiences with the help of my family. But Lori’s childhood was more than just different, it was wrong and it was traumatic and the trauma came at the hands of her abusers, people she knew and people she called family.

Yet, as she sat there in front of me on that Friday, she told her story with grace. Few people would dare criticize Lori if she had thoughts of rage and even vengeance. “I don’t look back with anger or regret,” she said. “It happened. It was bad. And it made me who I am.”

Of course, she doesn’t understand a lot of things about her past; like when those police officers, the ones who listened to eight-year-old Lori tell her story—of how she was running around the house in her pajamas and then was raped by her step-dad—replied, “You shouldn’t have seduced him by being in your pajamas.”

When I asked Lori what she would say to those officers today, her eyebrows raised to the middle of her forehead, she put her hand on the table in front of her as if to provide herself with support, support that the younger Lori was often without, and she said, “I have a lot of choice words for those people.”

And when asked what she might say to her mom, Lori struggled to find the right words. She has a fondness for her mom, an empathy that I can’t fathom.

“I don’t know what I would say to my mom. It was her worldview,” said Lori. “She was brought up to please the man. Back then, if you didn’t please the man, you deserved what you got. I’m not saying that’s right, but that’s what they taught us. It was the 60’s and 70’s. Till the day she died my mother was taught, and believed, that men do no wrong. One time, after my ex got a hold of me, she took me to her house. When the police finished photographing my bruises, you know what she asked me? She didn’t ask me how I was or if I was okay, she asked, ‘what did you do to antagonize him?’”

When she said those words, her face softened, she peered down toward the table in front of her, but only for a moment. She lifted her eyes up at Jennifer. “I have empathy where a lot of people don’t have it,” she said.

And then she told a story about her daughter and how difficult it is to keep a child safe in the world. As her kids were growing, Lori talked with them about her childhood and the abuse she experienced growing up. She understands the shame and embarrassment and silence that follow victims of sexual assault. There is this feeling that it’s your fault; that you shouldn’t have been there alone; that you should have taken a different route; that you should have known better. There’s a fear of telling someone, anyone, because shame and judgement and embarrassment linger. Lori gets it because she experienced it.

Lori stressed to her children the importance of vulnerability, “I’d talk to my kids about it,” said Lori. “I told them that if someone ever touches you, tell me, tell someone.” But when Lori’s daughter was molested by a man from their church, her daughter was silent. “She’s embarrassed. She’s ashamed,” said Lori. “I get it. It makes me look back at my mother … and you know what? Being a mom is hard. Mom’s make mistakes… .”

Family and support systems are crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But as child, when your support systems fail to support, then what? Where does one turn for appreciation and comfort and acknowledgment and love? There are several answers, Lori’s answer was meth.

“I ran away at 14. I did a lot of drugs after that, I used to use meth.”

Sometimes we hear stories that are alarming. It’s hard to know why these stories are difficult to hear. Perhaps it’s because we are humans, and as humans we are image-bearers of God, beings that yearn for good, for harmony, for beauty. To this point, this has not been that story.

My office faces west, and through the windows I can see the Rocky Mountain range. After writing this story I find myself staring out the window, brooding over this story. A friend of mine is the President/CEO of a non-profit who reaches out to victims of sex-trafficking. She reminded of an important insight, she said, “You have to remember this is a part of her story, it’s not the story.”

And she’s right. This is not all of Lori’s story. It’s not the story.

Eventually, Lori will go on to end up homeless. She will become irate at how it happened, how they kicked her off of SSDI, causing her to lose her monthly income of just over $800. She became two weeks behind rent and then was kicked out by the property managers.

I’ll let Lori tell you the rest of her story. “Since I’ve been homeless, I’ve had jobs,” she says. “I used to work for AT&T, in their call center. But I couldn’t pass the computer test. I get sick, too, and it makes it hard to work. When I worked, I couldn’t take a shower. There is no shower out at the women’s shelter, and when I went to work, I’d show up too late in the day to take a shower at the community center. I made it work for a while. I would just paint my fingernails so my employer wouldn’t see the dirt that is constantly under them, but…”

Her voice trails off and the interview ends.

I haven’t spoken with Lori since the first week of February. I was at the Lawrence Street Community Center last week. I tried to follow up with her, but I didn’t find her, and many of the people I spoke with didn’t know her.

I showed a picture of Lori to a friend who lives on the street. He told me that a women’s transitional housing program offered Lori admittance into their facility. Lori accepted the offer and will now have a stable place to live and shower while she works with a case manager toward developing skills to find more sustainable jobs.

And that’s Lori’s story, that’s the story. She is not defined by her experiences, experiences that have often been unfair, wrong and traumatic. Lori’s story is defined by her resilience. That’s Lori’s story. That’s the story.

 

 

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Photographer (with contributions by Emergency Services Coordinator, Jennifer Fitzgerald), offering insights and real-life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Faces of the Mission :: Marco and Bartet

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“I’m from Italy,” says Marco. “I worked at an Insurance agency there. I left my job because I didn’t like it that much. I was really depressed and I wanted another experience out of life, so I left. I went to Ibiza. I was alone there for four days before I decided to go to Columbia. That’s where I met Bartet.”

We’re inside Hi Rise Bakery, at the corner of Larimer and 22nd Street. Marco is sitting in front of Jennifer. And Bartet is outside, pacing the sidewalk. He’s jonesing for a cigarette, asking strangers if he can have one. I watch through the window as a stranger lends him a smoke.

Our coffees come to the table. Two lattes and a cappuccino. “Thank you for the cappuccino,” says Marco.

Marco is confident, but soft-spoken. His presence, coupled with his Italian accent, give off a calming energy. He sips his cappuccino, and looks into my lens as I take a photo of Jennifer and him conversing about the places he has traveled to.

“Rome. Naples. Columbia. Mexico City…”

Marco lists, in no particular order, place after place.

“…Ibiza, San Francisco, and then we came here, to Denver.”

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Bartet is still outside. With one hand he holds his cigarette. His other arm is wrapped around a lamp post. His feet are off the ground, one leg kicked up in the air behind him, as he swings around and around. He swings with a child-like zeal. People pass by and smile, some laugh, others stare. But Bartet just keeps swinging.

He sees me looking at him. I, too, smile. He waves, points his index finger in the air and says something. I can’t hear him through the glass, but I read his lips. “One second,” he says.

A few minutes pass. Bartet walks into the coffee shop and over to our table. Marco excuses himself, going outside for some fresh air. Bartet sits down and begins his story.

“My mom wanted me to go into Telecommunications and stay near her,” says Bartet. “She has a lot of children and she tried to get me to stay. But it was best to leave. My dad died when I was four because of alcoholism. And I picked up alcoholism back home, too. So I left.”

“I love Jesus, and that’s where I find happiness,” says Bartet. “God is everywhere, I think. From the lyrics of Pink Floyd to the streets. He is everywhere. That’s why I like to travel, because you see so much of God and people.”

He goes on for several more minutes, speaking about his spirituality and God. He talks about angels and spirits. He talks about how he believes they are watching over him, protecting him. He talks about his friend, Marco.

As he talks he does so with his eyes closed, pondering over his thoughts before he speaks them into words. A few decades ago, he would have been identified as a hippy. But to him, he is simply spiritual, connected to a power greater than himself. It’s this connection that inspires him to keep going, to keep traveling.

“Our experiences help define us,” says Bartet. “They connect us. I don’t want to stay in one place. I always want to be adapting. Changing. Growing.”

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Photographer (with contributions by Emergency Services Coordinator, Jennifer Fitzgerald), offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Holly Center Officially Opens :: Sleeps 200 Men In Need

Tonight is the first night we will sleep men in our new shelter facility, the Holly Center! This means that, starting today, the Mission will operate three separate overnight emergency shelter facilities in Denver (48th Street Center, Holly Center and the Lawrence Street Shelter downtown) with total capacity of 800+ men on any given night.

At the Holly Center, we are currently setup with 200 beds with the capacity for 228. These are the first permanent shelter beds for men in the City of Denver since the late 1980’s, providing much-needed capacity and stability to the shelter system. The Holly Center also featured lockers for storage, restrooms, showers, water fountains, laundry and extra outlets where our guests can charge their phones.

 

Mission staff members have been working closely with crews from JHL Constructors and DEC Architects over the past several months to complete this project, along with generous support from The Denver Broncos, The Patten-Davis Foundation, Keith and Kim Molenhouse and The Anschutz Foundation to make it a reality. To learn more about the building plans, read my March blog post here.

This facility will allow the Mission to serve those in our community who are experiencing homelessness for many years to come. We were thrilled to hold a Grand Opening Ceremony for the Holly Center on Wednesday, November 15 where Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Erik Soliván from the Office of HOPE, Mission staff and Board members, program participants and community supporters all came together to celebrate this new shelter. Check out some of the photo highlights below.

 

Guests will be transported to the Holly Center at night after having dinner at our Lawrence Street Community Center (LSCC). In the morning, guests will be transported back to LSCC for breakfast. This is the same procedure that  currently takes place for our 48th Street Center, which is an overflow shelter for men that the Mission operates in partnership with the City of Denver. The 48th Street Center can sleep up to 300 men. This is in addition to our Lawrence Street Shelter downtown which can sleep up to 315 men, making the total capacity of 800+ men receiving overnight shelter at Denver Rescue Mission on any given night.

We’re grateful to provide this safe refuge for our homeless and struggling neighbors, something that we’ve been doing since 1892. This year marks the 125th anniversary for the Mission and we’re grateful for all of our supporters and volunteers who walk alongside us to comfort and care for the most vulnerable in our community.

As winter approaches with frigid temperatures, the opening of the Holly Center has come at an important time. I am humbled that God has blessed the Mission with the opportunity to serve so many individuals in the name of Christ, and I pray that we meet their immediate needs well, with the goal of returning them to society as productive, self-sufficient citizens.

Please join us in praying for the new Holly Center and each person who will be sleeping with us this winter at one of our three shelter locations.

God Bless,

Brad Meuli
President and CEO

Faces of the Mission :: Margarita

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“I don’t see myself as in poverty,” Margarita says. “My parents would come back from the dead if I was in poverty! You have to know who you are. I can say that my mother and grandmother always said that people determine who you are by how you look. So, it was necessary for me to look like I wanted to do something, to look like I was out to learn something, to have my mind and my dress and my attitude to look like I was going to move forward, never thinking about moving backward, always moving forward.”

Margarita has been experiencing homelessness for 18 months, which officially makes her chronically homeless. She used to live in a duplex out by Denver International Airport, but her landlord, unable to afford payments on the apartment complex was forced to sell, resulting in Margarita having no place to go.

“Some days I go through things that make me want to pull my hair out and just get dropped off by the river somewhere by myself. But I know that’s not the answer. For me, the answer is to help someone. Jordan, I never let a day pass that I don’t help somebody. I think that if you help someone move forward—you move forward.”

“Just being with people and talking is important—something will always come up that you can talk about. And as you talk, people begin to tell you their issues, and you can try to help them.”

She’s speaking to me as if I am her student, and in a strange way, I get it. To her I’m young and somewhat naïve—my passion does not match her wisdom, her experience or even her education. For the rest of the conversation I hardly speak, I don’t ask another question. I just sit back and listen to Margarita impart her wisdom and tell her story.

“I’m from Barcelona. I came to the U.S. to go to college. I went to Radcliffe, then to the University of Minnesota. I almost froze to death in Minnesota, not literally to death, but it was so cold! And I had the nerve to be a cheerleader. Can you believe that? I was so cold during the football season that I thought I was going to die!”

“After my experience in Minnesota, I hurried to California. I studied at the University there—at Berkley. I studied psychology and ended up working that field, helping parents and children.”

“I have a talent to sing. I sing opera—I like to do that. I’ve done that since I was a kid, and that excites me. I haven’t done any real work since I’ve been in Denver because this is not an opera city. In San Francisco, I did a lot of work. I worked for the city and then I would go across the street to one of the city organizations and be on stage. I’ve always liked to act.”

Jennifer Fitzgerald, our Emergency Services Coordinator downtown who was also a part of this interview, chimes in…“You’re so joyful, Margarita. What makes you that way?”

“Anticipation for life,” Margarita says. “I always ask myself, what can I do to help others today? What can I do to get out of this situation? And creating, just trying to create an interest in something, and holding an interest in something, because that’s the only way you can live out here. If you have no interest and you don’t do anything to help people—you don’t do anything to build, then what are you doing? You know? You have to do something to help others. That’s what I was taught.”

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Photographer and former Next Step Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.