When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, homeless shelters across our nation found themselves scrambling to find ways to continuing caring for those experiencing homelessness while also protecting them from the contagious virus and following CDC health requirements. In the early spring, we were all told that it was “safer to stay home.” But if you do not have a home, where do you go?
Our incredible nonprofit client, Catholic Charities of Larimer County, has been helping this population not only through the pandemic but for more than 31 years. Catholic Charities’ shelter, The Mission, is the largest and oldest homeless shelter in northern Colorado. They temporarily expanded to the Northside Aztlan Community Center in Fort Collins, keeping hundreds of men experiencing homelessness off the streets during this challenging time. Catholic Charities also operated a separate winter shelter for women.
Operating homeless shelters during a pandemic is a challenge logistically, financially, and physically. For 92 days, hundreds of clean linens were washed daily at The Mission and transported by a U-Haul to the offsite locations, 150 lunches were prepared and served daily, and paying for staff at multiple locations was an additional financial burden. The stress of the pandemic is far from over, but with the help of our generous community members and incredible organizations such as Catholic Charities, our homeless population is being cared for – which in turn helps to protect the health of our entire community.
Over the years, Catholic Charities has developed several programs to assist our homeless neighbors and support them along their journey back to self-sufficiency. Their Extended Stay Program allows adults and families experiencing homelessness a chance to get back on their feet and become self-sufficient. This program has prerequisites, which are discussed during an intake process to see if the individual qualifies for the program. Those in the Extended Stay Program work with their case managers to overcome barriers, meet their goals, and become self-sufficient. While in the program, residents must be sober and employed.
The program also provides classes about employment, life skills, housing, and money management. Residents are required to keep a housing and job search log, and deposit earnings into a supervised personal housing fund. The goal of The Mission is to provide a hand up, not a handout. Those who go through the program are more equipped to stay on the path of self-sufficiency and are less likely to fall back into homelessness.
The Mission is also unique in the way they serve our veterans. They provide a separate housing facility for veteran residents, work with the VA to provide them with physical and mental health support and connect them with income and housing resources. Before the pandemic, this program had the capacity to support 12 veterans at a time. Health restrictions have now lowered the amount of people that can be safely housed at a time.
The hospitality kitchen at The Mission serves three free meals a day to shelter residents and emergency overnight guests, every day of the year. Thanks to the many volunteers and generous community members, each meal only costs an average of $2.15. Keeping this cost low means that more meals can be provided to more people! Other programs include services for seniors to help them secure and keep housing, deliver monthly food boxes, and assist them in obtaining benefits.
You can support The Mission in their goal of helping those who are experiencing homelessness to become self-sufficient, by visiting ccdenver.org/helplarimer. This link will take you directly to a page that ensures your money stays within Larimer County.