Catholic News Agency – Cindy Brown spent 12 years in the U.S. Army. Approaching late middle age, she found herself in a crisis. Samaritan House homeless shelter, run by Catholic Charities of Denver, was there for her. “I’m just very grateful. Samaritan House saved my life. They did,” she told CNA Aug. 25.
“I became homeless, I believe in 2015,” Brown recounted. “I lost my job, couldn’t pay for my apartment, that story. I was referred to Samaritan House. They had a veteran’s program there also.” “That’s where I ended up, instead of being on the streets. I’m very blessed that that happened,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was like, ‘where do I go? I can’t live on the streets. I’m tough, but I’m not that tough’.”
Over 1,700 women in the Denver metro region were homeless on any given night in January 2017, according to a report from the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. They made up 33.7 percent of the region’s homeless population. Women aged 55 and over are among the fastest growing demographic among the homeless. While homeless women number less than homeless men, they face more risk of trauma and abuse. They tend to require more medical attention, especially those who are pregnant. Overall, women find it more difficult to escape homelessness.
The new Samaritan House Women’s Shelter aims to help them succeed. The shelter, located northeast of downtown Denver, offers emergency space to 100 single women and a 29-day transitional program to 50 more. It is the largest women’s shelter in Denver. Combined with current shelter space, Catholic Charities will be able to provide 250 single women with emergency overnight shelter.
Denver’s Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told CNA that opening a new women’s shelter is a way for the Church “to serve those women who are in such great need of assistance and help.” “We were commanded by Jesus to do that: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to welcome the stranger,” he said. “It’s a way that we are able to show their dignity as human beings and particularly as women.”
The new shelter’s transitional program will provide women access to recovery resources, mental health services, and employment information through its computer lab. Participants can also apply for government benefits and if necessary seek help from other Catholic Charities programs. Women who complete the transitional program can move to a 120-day program at the Samaritan House downtown location. This program aims to help residents develop life skills and find opportunities for employment and housing.
Larry Smith, CEO of Catholic Charities of Denver, said gentrification of Denver neighborhoods has made housing unaffordable for many people. “With the increase in the value of those properties, and the increase in the price of rent, those people are being forced out of their homes, and for the first time experiencing homelessness,” Smith told CNA. “As a result, you end up with an increasing population of former Denver residents who now don’t know where to go because they can’t afford housing.”
Catholic Charities’ administrative offices will be located in the same building, which has 32,000 square feet of space. The women’s shelter is a $5.1 million project, including $1 million secured by the City of Denver. Mayor of Denver Michael Hancock joined Archbishop Aquila and Smith at an Aug. 24 grand opening of the shelter. He has made homelessness a priority in his administration.
“We are fortunate here in Denver to have a strong community of partners who work alongside the city to serve those experiencing homelessness,” said Hancock. “We are never to stop trying to care for them, and to make sure we do everything we can to provide comfort and compassion and opportunity to live a healthier fuller life,” he added. “While we may not always agree how we do it, the bottom line is we’re trying to do it.”
Hancock cited the injunction of Jesus to St. Peter in the Gospels to “feed his sheep.” According to Smith, the growing homeless situation in Denver is “terribly challenging.” “Both the City of Denver and other major shelters in the city are working to change how homelessness is addressed and help those who experience homelessness recover,” he said. Partnerships like the grant secured through the city will help these people “find a path back to self-reliance and dignity.”
For Brown, the assistance she found from the Veterans’ Administration and Samaritan House was wonderful. “I appreciated everything,” she said. After living in transitional housing, she is planning to move into her own place with the help of a housing voucher. During her time at Samaritan House, Brown was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Given her disability, she hopes to find something she can do like volunteer work. “I’d love to help out the community, help those who have helped me,” she told CNA.
The Samaritan House website is samhousedenver.org.