That monotone buzz after dialing a phone number has become the soundtrack to the lives of many workers in homeless care as they await a response on the other end.
As monotonous as calling landlords, doctors and whoever necessary to find housing for their clients can be, many appreciate the grind because of the end results.
“Trying to connect with various agencies, we can’t always get ahold of anyone and a lot of our [clients] don’t have phones,” said Maria Schuch, Peak Vista Downtown Homeless Clinic RN and care manager. “We’re trying to help on their behalf to call agencies. But imagine someone on the street trying to get ahold of someone or fill out a form. They don’t have electronics and it can be a terrible process. We’re there to help them and to be their advocate.”
Numerous issues arise as workers strive to provide housing and other resources to their clients.
No matter the hurdles, most organizations move mountains to ensure their clients find stable housing and live better lives.
Overcoming the past
While money plays an obvious role in providing shelter, a dazzling resumé of successful housing also remains key.
However, finding a client with an ideal housing history is where many organizations hit a roadblock
“If a tenant has a past eviction, they’re really going to struggle,” said Mary Stegner, Partners in Housing executive director said. “If we can figure out if that past eviction was due to a domestic violence incident, then there are ways to get those off their record. Convincing a landlord that they’re a good risk and figuring out how we can help, we do that a lot.”
Partners in Housing, which provides transitional housing to families and single parents, said, while they do assist single fathers and two-parent households, “our biggest population who seeks us for help are single moms.”
To aid in housing rehabilitation process, Partners in Housing provides a housing navigation program to help find homes for clients following one year at the Myron Stratton Home located off Highway 115.
Partners in Housing helps clients build a budget, learn how to find housing after they’re out of the program and more.
Nine months into the program, Stegner said clients work with Sarah Seales, a housing navigator at PIH to take a “realistic look” at housing barriers previously faced.
“We see if we can clean up past evictions, figure out what is their rental history [length and location] and how much to save for a security deposit,” Stegner said. “We want them to be ready to exit our program and enter their own stable housing.”
Stegner noted that PIH also must evaluate the risk for their role in the process.
“We don’t want to fail with this because that’s going to make the process difficult for future clients,” Stegner said. “We make sure the client we advocate for understands their role in this. Walking away from a lease is not OK. …This is a partnership between us, the landlord and the client because we all have to make sure we’re going to make this work together.”
When issues occur, Stegner said PIH assist landlords to ease any potential burden caused by a client.
“If [a landlord] feels like they missed out on a month’s worth of rent because this issue happened, then we help with that,” Stegner said. “This isn’t always a perfect process, but we work to make sure it’s as close to perfect as possible.”
Long but glorious road to success
Many clients live fruitful lives upon exiting local programs. Stegner said in 2021, more than 90 percent of clients in PIH’s 12-month program found stable housing.
A previous program grad who continues to thrive is Keri Ellen, now vice president of the board at Partners in Housing, initially didn’t recognize her own plight.
Ellen had a conversation with a friend shortly after Ellen separated from her husband in 2008.
In a video on Partner in Housing’s website, Ellen said her friend told her about Partner’s in Housing, but she didn’t see the fit.
“I said, ‘Oh no, we’re not homeless,’” Ellen said. “[My friend said,] well where do you live?’ And I’m like, ‘This week, we’re going to stay at so-and-so’s house.’” And she’s like, ‘Keri, you realize what you’re saying? You don’t have a home. You are homeless.’”
Ellen eventually joined PIH’s low-cost 12-month housing program to provide stable shelter for her and her children.
Soon after completion, Ellen said she got a house near Memorial Park and began to see a paradigm shift.
“That was the turning point for the kids and I,” Ellen said. “We had a roof over our head that was our home. The program is about empowering you and giving you hope and giving you the skills you need to … never end up [homeless] again. They gave me the foundation I needed to be able to stand on my own two feet.”
Additional local assistance
Schuch said Peak Vista recently had “several” residents who will enter a program in Las Animas.
The facility, called Fort Lyon Supportive Residential Community, will house residents for two years.
“The goal is they will help the residents get into a more permanent housing situation,” Schuch said. “We have five or six [residents] who have gone down there in the past year from our clinic and we have two more going down in the coming weeks.”
Schuch said recent residents in the program “are thriving,” which is a shift from their previous lives.
“It’s hard to get people off the streets when they’ve lived there for so long,” Schuch said. “It’s easier when they’re on the streets for short times to get them into housing. The longer they’re homeless, the more difficult it becomes to get them into a more permanent housing situation. These are truly success stories.
“We stay in touch with a couple of [clients] and they give us updates on how amazing their facility is,” Schuch said. “We’re their family. They have nobody else. When they left [Peak Vista], we went out to wave good-bye when they got on the bus. … Even though they’ve gone on to something better, they keep in touch with their family. That’s what makes those long days and numerous phone calls worth it.”