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.
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).
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.
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.