Aside from families, women are the most underserved homeless population in Denver. And, those women who don’t have any place to go and live on the streets face huge risks to their safety.
Catholic Charities of Denver is committed to expanding its shelter program and all the supports it offers to women.
“We are responding to a community call, a community demand and a community need,” Catholic Charities’ Director of Women’s Emergency Services Stephanie Kaufman said.
And through its quick yet thoughtful response, Catholic Charities of Denver is now the largest shelter provider for women in all of Colorado.
“We felt it was our calling to step up and help get women the protection that they deserve and the dignity they deserve,” Executive President of Shelters at Catholic Charities of Denver said.
Catholic Charities is growing its Samaritan House Community beyond the limits of Downtown Denver. The 35-year old Samaritan House on Lawrence Street cares for families, veterans (both men and women retired service members) and women (single men are welcomed at the nearby Denver Rescue Mission). Most of the women who arrive at the Samaritan House doors downtown stay in the newly renovated emergency overnight shelter, just for women. Those with children move on to the remodeled family floor. The women who are single either stay at Samaritan House Downtown or move to Samaritan House Smith or the newly opened Samaritan House 48th. With Samaritan House Fort Collins and the Guadalupe Community Center in Greeley, Catholic Charities has gone from being able to take up 180 women a night to the current limit of 700.
“I don’t have any income or any money and so I was sleeping in my car,” Susan said. “I live in Greenwood Village. I’ve never been in a shelter, I didn’t know what to do.”
Susan grew up in South Denver. She is a graduate of Cherry Creek High School, raised a family and was an outdoor enthusiast who loved to ski and bike. But, when her son died by suicide, everything unraveled. Susan who always had a steady job was looking for a new one at the time of her son’s death but the grief was too overwhelming for her to keep going with her employment search. Susan lived off her savings and before too long, had nothing left. She lost her home and was living out of her car until it was impounded.
“They brought me to Samaritan House 48th with sheets and blankets and towels and they got me some clothes.. .because all of my stuff was in my car. There is a really good place, and the food is good.”
Catholic Charities realized it had to do more than just provide a place to sleep, it is expanding it number of case workers, therapists and support services so that the women can get back on their feet and live independently in affordable housing.
Catholic Charities has also boosted it’s food production and now, provides three meals a day at all of it’s shelters and to all the families enrolled in Catholic Charities’ Early Childhood Education program. It is expecting to serve one million meals in the coming year. Everything is made in the recently updated kitchen at Samaritan House Downtown.
“It’s 365 days a year that we’re open,” Catholic Charities Food Service Director Bobby Bigsby said. “The women have breakfast at six o’clock every morning. They have lunch at noon and then dinner at 5:30. So we send a truck over to the shelters three times a day with those fresh foods.”
Bigsby prides himself on the rotating menus that are offered with high protein items and fresh fruit.
Bigsby estimates his kitchen dices up up 70 cases worth of fresh fruit a week and makes close to 1,500 sandwiches a week. “It’s not just a peanut butter jelly sandwich or a small ham sandwich,” Bigsby said. “With our donations and our grant programs are able to offer roast beef, turkey, or a ham sandwich to those clients so that they get to see some sense of variety.”
Wellness, both the physical and mental, is an area that Catholic Charities focuses on deeply. For those women who struggle to live in a large bunk room, they are welcomed in at the Roadway Shelter. The City of Denver owns the former motel and during the pandemic, the city turned to Catholic Charities to run it as a shelter for up to 125 women.
“A lot of our guests have felt so alone for so long that they struggle with trust and opening up,” Roadway’s Program Director Trice Nelson said. “We provide that safe place for them to do that. Community is very important to us here.”
Sinnett says this massive expansion effort of Catholic Charities’ shelters would have been a huge lift if it had not been for the support of the community, without the donations of benefactors and the grants that it has received.
“Having that support and that backing gave us the courage and the momentum to open Samaritan House 48th in July,” Sinnett said. “And we all have such a can-do spirit. We say ‘Who but us?’ And we are doing it. And I’m so very proud of my team.”
And the work is not over.
Catholic Charities knows it must continue to find new locations so that it can provide for more women in the future.
“The lifting of the eviction moratorium that began during the COVID-19 crisis is really one of those unknown factors,” Mike Sinnett said. “We just don’t know how far-reaching that impact will be. What will that do to people who are currently experiencing homelessness? Will those who can’t pay rent be forced on to the streets? Will it drive them to move somewhere else? We’ve discussed this, we’ve strategized over this, and are planning for what the future need will be like.”
The Catholic Charities team is united with the goal of welcoming all, keeping them safe, supporting and guiding them to a place where they can be self-sufficient and living in long-term affordable housing. That is something Susan is determined to make happen.
“I’m going to do it, because I want to be able to just live a regular life again,” Susan said. “I want to be able to be in my own apartment with my furniture and with my clothes and pay my bills again. I can do it!”
If you or someone you know is in need of support, call Catholic Charities of Denver at (303) 294-0241.
The video story that you see prior in this story premiered at Sam’s Supper, the Meal that Serves Many in September 2021. That event raised more than $472,000!!!!
Kyle Dyer Storytelling created thisshorter version to help promote the event: