Human connection unspoken 'glue' of a successful housing program, officials say

Luke Zarzecki
lzarzecki@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/25/22

Josh E. was experiencing homelessness in Denver before he joined Northglenn’s temporary winter housing program at the old recreation center. In fact, he caught COVID-19 and was housed by one of …

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Human connection unspoken 'glue' of a successful housing program, officials say

Posted

Josh E. was experiencing homelessness in Denver before he joined Northglenn’s temporary winter housing program at the old recreation center. In fact, he caught COVID-19 and was housed by one of Denver’s respite programs. 

He didn’t want to head back to a typical homeless shelter. 

“I just really was not looking forward to going back to that full homeless shelter that just cuts you loose in the morning,” he said. 

He referred himself to Northglenn’s program and was welcomed on the first night. Now, he is fully housed. 

Part of Northglenn’s winter housing program, which was extended through Aug. 31 on March 28, requires participants to have a connection to daytime activities, such as a job, job training, working with counselors or the like. The Denver Rescue Mission operates the program, and case management is available. 

As of April 23, seven program participants have become fully housed.

Josh is employed as a delivery person and was able to find housing due to the program. He said the program provided him time, energy and resources to be able to sit down and find housing. 

Jessica Hulse, the Crisis Response Unit program manager for Northglenn, emphasized that the amount of stress those experiencing homelessness commonly endure interferes with their ability to find housing. 

She said some people have a job and are ready to find housing, but applications, research, time and stress prohibit it. She said surviving and finding places to sleep causes stress. Removing the stress with the housing program frees up parts of the brain to focus on the goal. 

“Instead of self preservation — ‘where do I want to go?’ — that shift in thinking, ‘what do I want to be doing and how can I be doing that?’” she said. 

Help for those caught in between

Josh was in a certain tier of homelessness — the second tier — the progam mostly addresses. That tier, Hulse explained, is for those who have been homeless between two weeks and a year. Often, these folks may have lost a job or experienced a disturbance in a family unit, but every situation is unique. 

“They can make appointments and keep their typical life going, they just don't have that house anymore, but they can keep their belongings safe,” she said. 

The program also helps tier-one individuals, who have been homeless for less than two weeks. 

Josh Geppalt, vice president of operations for the Denver Rescue Mission, said the number of people experiencing homelessness in that second tier is “a much higher percentage than we would assume.” 

“There's even a chronic homeless population that you can see here in Northglenn,” he said. “But that does not represent the reality. I think the majority of folks are in that tier one (or) tier two that both have interest and capacity to improve their situations and just need the stability of a safe place to be.” 

A successful program 

Nothing but praise has come from Northglenn City Council members regarding the program.

“I’ve not seen a project in this city that has gained so much enthusiasm from the public,” former City Councilor Julie Duran Mullica said at a Feb. 28 meeting.

“I think this has truly been an impactful pilot program,” said Northglenn Mayor Pro-Tem Jenny Wilford at a March 28 meeting. 

Geppalt explained the small size and personal connections are what make the program successful. 

“If nothing else, the idea of having a person who's advocating for you, I mean, we all want people that are in our corner,” he said. “And so, I think that oftentimes is the unspoken glue to a lot of these programs, it's just those key relationships.” 

Geppalt also said the connection between city staff and volunteers who contribute to the program make participants feel more part of the community, rather than a blight. 

Compared to other programs, he said, many times, the huge warehouse, big-box responses to homelessness don’t cut it for long-term solutions. Twenty-five person programs are more individualized, and the surrounding community is more likely to approve of a small program. 

Establishing a human connection helps people tremendously, Hulse said. 

“I think that there are themes of homelessness that are sometimes true and can be applied, but each individual person will need different circumstances to move forward,” she said. 

Jayme Schledewitz, community resource navigator for Northglenn, helps each individual with different circumstances and even connected some with their families out of state. 

“We helped somebody get back to Florida, Chicago and Alaska,” she said. 

Not only the human connection between case managers and participants, but also the connection between the participants that is built by the program. 

Josh E. explained he felt like he was part of the community when he was a participant and often wants to come back to visit. 

Hulse said this sense of community helps participants with long-term housing, because resources aren’t the only thing those experiencing homelessness need. 

“We can’t just say services," Hulse said. "It doesn’t work; we need a life to move into. This is more than the sum of just Medicaid and food stamps. They need community and belonging to become truly stable.” 

Deputy Chief of Police Randall Darlin said this program gives the police a resource to help those experiencing homelessness. 

“Oftentimes, when these programs don't exist, there are no services that the police can provide to the homeless, especially the chronic homeless,'' he said. “There isn't that follow-up, wrap-up service offered by every municipality where we can use case management and other services to provide for the individuals.” 

He said providing a roof for folks doesn’t cut it because that is not the reason they are experiencing homelessness. It’s the issues they are dealing with. 

“Typically, there has been a pretty big disruption with a key relationship, whether that be a parent, a spouse, a child, somewhere along the way there has been a key disruption,” said Hulse on what often causes homelessness. 

“When you start to criminalize homelessness, you're utilizing the statutes in the wrong way,” Darlin said. 

Bettering themselves

Program volunteers Diana and Terry Wadding explained what they have learned from the program. 

“There are some people that are willing to go through a program to better help themselves,” Diana Wadding said. 

“These are people that are on the cusp of making it and just need that extra hand up,” Terry Wadding said.

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