The Denver Post – Victoria Smith never imagined herself homeless.
She was working as an accountant when the national economy collapsed in 2008. Like millions of other Americans, she was laid off that year.
At first she didn’t panic. She sold her Capitol Hill condo and moved from Denver to Miami, hoping to find work there. When that failed, she moved to Taos, again hunting in vain for employment. She returned to Denver, taking a series of temporary jobs at the National Western Stock Show, Walmart and the U.S. Census Bureau, falling deeper into depression.
Finally she left a relative’s home and sought emergency shelter this year at The Delores Project, in a squat, unassuming building tucked at the end of a west Denver street.
There she regained hope.
The Delores Project accommodates up to 22 single and transgender women in its Steps to Stability program, providing long-term shelter as they seek housing, employment and other self-defined goals.
Smith joined the program three months ago. She knows the hurdles besetting her own path to stability. She is 57 years old. Her résumé reveals big blank spots since November 2008.
Meanwhile, “I’m so grateful to have this place. To have someone to tell you to be gentle with yourself,” she said. “There’s no feeling of pushing, but there’s always this forward movement.”
She smiles as she speaks.
“I’ve never been treated with such respect and kindness as I have here,” she said.
Steps to Stability is one of four programs offered to single and transgender women by The Delores Project.
Emergency Shelter, the most basic, provides 10 single beds with colorful blankets and plastic bins to stow belongings for up to a week. In the winter, cots can be unfolded for 15 more emergency guests.
Two other extended-stay programs, Community Partners and Community Transitions, help people receiving case management services or needing shelter after being released from the corrections system.
Altogether, the shelter can hold 50 to 65 women per night, depending on the weather.
Carrie Packard, the project’s development director, says guests run the gamut, from 21 to 89 years old, from another accountant who earned a doctorate degree to a paranoid woman who will not let anyone write her name. Transgender women have occupied from two to 14 percent of its beds.
They defy other stereotypes. “We have a lot of guests who work,” Packard said.
That’s Smith’s dream: to work full time again as an accountant, preferably for a nonprofit group.
“I will do anything, though,” she added. “I worked for Walmart and the stock show.”
David Olinger: 303-954-1498, firstname.lastname@example.org or @dolingerdp