BY MATT SALIS
COVID-19 is deadly in so many ways. The hospitalizations and deaths related to this pandemic disease are a huge and terrifying burden on our healthcare system. These direct tragedies are obvious and calculable. The ticker on the cable news TV screen keeps us updated on case counts and deaths in Colorado, across the nation and around the world. It is way beyond sad, and we have to do everything we can to defeat the virus.
But this diabolical disease kills in so many other ways, too. We are all far too familiar with the tightrope we walk. We need to continue to reopen our economy and get back to something resembling normal for the sake of the millions of our citizens who have seen their income demolished by this virus. Move too quickly, and we’ll overwhelm the hospital system. Move too slowly, and we watch helplessly as an almost unimaginable and growing number of people can’t afford basic necessities. The mental health toll, and the increase in cases of addiction, are catastrophic and continuing to build.
Now, more than ever, we need to understand how easy it is for smart, hard-working people to find themselves facing homelessness at no fault of their own. When we think of our homeless neighbors, we often picture severe mental illness and addiction. We picture people barely surviving, wandering the streets with all of their possessions. Those cases are both plentiful and tragic. But many of our Denver residents who experience homelessness are in a temporary predicament. They are often homeless through no fault of their own, and all they need is a chance to prove that they can again make it on their own. They need a hand, but not an ongoing handout.
With unemployment skyrocketing while our economy struggles to restart, we are seeing unprecedented numbers of people being pushed over the line that separates sustainable independence from poverty and homelessness. In Denver, we are blessed to have a number of generous organizations dedicated to helping people get back on their feet. They are doing heroic work, now more than ever. We highlight here a couple such organizations that are making a difference in our community.
STEP Denver has been serving our Denver community for 37 years. The organization has adapted to meet the needs of our population, and also apply what we are learning about getting our homeless population back to stability. When a person is experiencing homelessness, the lack of a consistent safe place to sleep occupies all of their mental and physical energy. In the old model, we encouraged our homeless neighbors to get a job so they could afford a place to live. That didn’t work. When they were using all of their time and resources securing a place to sleep, there was no time for work. For many years, we had it backwards. STEP Denver is part of the “housing first” revolution that is doing it right.
At STEP Denver, residents move through their four residential phases on the road back to independence. It all starts with a safe place to sleep so residents can take care of the basic necessities allowing them to rejoin the workforce. The goal at STEP Denver has long been to have every resident in full-time employment within the first 30 days of residence. That goal just became incredibly hard to reach, and that’s why STEP Denver needs our help now more than ever. To learn more about STEP Denver and the hundreds of people they help get back on their feet each year, or to find out how you can offer financial support, please visit stepdenver.org.
At Ready to Work Aurora, they treat recovery from homelessness like a three legged stool addressing housing, employment and support at the same time. Ready to Work residents are housed at a clean, efficient, impressive new building that includes 36 beds for men, 14 beds for women and an onsite culinary training program. Residents receive case work support to help them find and upgrade employment, get mental health and addiction treatment as needed, and transition over time to sustainable independent housing.
Ready to Work is much more than entry-level work and a homeless shelter. They are teaching their residents the skills needed to live and thrive on their own. It is widely understood by people working in the homelessness community that education and support is the key to ending the cycle of homelessness, and Ready to Work Aurora is doing it right. The challenges faced by Ready to Work are enormous and growing, and our support helps them work directly to get people back on their feet. Find out more about Ready to Work Aurora, and consider a donation at boulderbridgehouse.org.
We all want to help be a part of the solution in these tragic and overwhelming times. With the exception of the medical professionals and front-line workers in our neighborhood, most of us can only stay home and practice social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. It is a helpless feeling, and so many of us want to do more.
When we make financial contributions, it is so important that we donate to organizations that are doing it right with a proven track record. Both STEP Denver and Ready to Work Aurora understand homelessness, and they are using the most innovative approaches to helping our neighbors. We need these two nonprofit organizations now more than ever.
Matt Salis writes, speaks, podcasts, directs a non-profit, leads an early sobriety program, coaches soccer at Denver South H.S. and runs (very slowly) around the crushed-gravel path that surrounds our beloved Wash Park a couple of times a week. Read more from Matt at SoberAndUnashamed.com.