Empowering clients to escape homelessness
by Kate Braniff
As summer envelops northern Colorado and many COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, residents crave a semblance of normalcy.
For Fort Collins-based Homeward Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to ending homelessness, normalcy means overcoming the unique health challenges brought on by COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed our health-care system’s inequities,” says David Rout, executive director of Homeward Alliance. “Our challenge, and other agencies’ challenge, was keeping people safe and healthy while empowering people to escape homelessness and move forward with their lives.”
Homeward Alliance, originally Homeless Gear, began as a volunteer-run organization created by retired Fort Collins resident and avid outdoorsman Ken John, who collected donated outdoor gear for residents living on the streets.
The organization grew, adding outreach, distribution programs, and assuming operations of the Murphy Center for Hope, a day center housing over 20 agencies that assist people struggling with homelessness.
Presently serving about 5,000 clients annually, Homeward Alliance collaborates with other agencies to provide basic needs, case management, housing placement, employment services, and connections to health services.
Responding to COVID-19
During COVID-19, the organization helped oversee a regional response to the virus, deploying relief funding to new programs that helped keep people safe and alive.
First, they reconfigured the Murphy Center to meet COVID-19 health protocols. When cold weather hit, they set up outdoor tents, heaters, and hand-washing stations, accommodating nearly 45,000 check-ins throughout 2020.
Next, Homeward Alliance teamed up with the Health District to create COVID-19 Isolation/Recovery and Quarantine sites in Fort Collins and Loveland. The sites provided safe, comfortable, socially distanced indoor shelter for unhoused Larimer County residents to recover from COVID-19 and quarantine if they were exposed or had symptoms.
Homeward Alliance prioritized COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as they became available, educating clients about their importance, and providing easy opportunities to get vaccinated.
Ultimately, over 300 individuals and families secured housing in 2020 through Homeward Alliance—a new record.
“For many of our clients, it’s a lack of affordable housing combined with low wages,” says Pam Brewer, development director for Homeward Alliance. “If you have other barriers, like divorce, domestic violence, or job loss, housing stability is almost impossible.”
Add to that a lack of family or community support, and it’s easy to see how many fall victim to homelessness.
Brewer explains that some of their clients escape homelessness fairly quickly, with light touch services like rental assistance or finding a second job.
But for those with more substantial barriers, like senior citizens, or people with mental health or substance use disorders, it’s not so simple.
“People who are homeless suffer from chronic health conditions, mental health issues, and substance use disorders at rates beyond the population at large,” says Rout. “What’s more, there are limited health resources for people who are homeless, and countless barriers preventing regular access.”
So, while life moves forward for northern Coloradans, Homeward Alliance resumes its work providing access to services and interventions that empower thousands of people to survive, move forward, and thrive.
|If you or someone you know is facing homelessness in northern Colorado|
|Murphy Center for Hope
242 Conifer St., Fort Collins, CO 80524