Without year-round shelter, Arvada homeless ‘tossed back and forth’

Homeless population speaks on needs during Point in Time Survey

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/5/20

John Woolsey has been robbed seven times in the last year while staying in Arvada. He’s been in the city for about four years, sleeping at severe weather shelters on nights they are open, and …

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Without year-round shelter, Arvada homeless ‘tossed back and forth’

Homeless population speaks on needs during Point in Time Survey

Posted

John Woolsey has been robbed seven times in the last year while staying in Arvada. He’s been in the city for about four years, sleeping at severe weather shelters on nights they are open, and sleeping outside when the shelters are closed.

At the shelters, he knows his belongings are safe, he said; falling asleep outside, however, he has no guarantee that his bag won’t be gone when he wakes up.

“I find an area I want to sleep and hide my stuff,” but this strategy is not always successful, he said. And when he loses a bag, he also typically loses “an extra pair of pants, an extra shirt, an extra pair of dry socks. Anything warm to put on.”

Jefferson County does not have a year-round homeless shelter that opens every night. The Severe Weather Shelter Network open only when nightly temperatures fall below 20 degrees, or 32 degrees with wet conditions. The network consists of community groups, agencies and churches.

MORE: Point in Time survey in Lakewood "...always a humbling and heartbreaking experience."

In Arvada, some churches also offer daytime services. The Rising Church in Olde Town, for instance, provides a daytime shelter on weekdays and intermittent resources like food and medical services.

But without a consistent place to sleep and safely store belongings at night, many in Arvada find themselves waking up missing a bag, or worse.

“When your whole life is in a bag and it gets stolen, it really puts a strain on you,” said Anthony, who has lived in Arvada for about seven years. He prefers not to use his last name for privacy reasons.

“It’s like being teased. You go good for a week and then you’re stuck out there in the weekend,” he said. “And then you wake up and your bags are gone, with your bus pass and your ID, and you’ve got to start all over.”

To raise awareness about the extent of homelessness in the metro area, promote collaboration efforts and potentially pave the way for more resources, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative conducts its Point in Time (PIT) survey each year. During the survey, which this year ran the night of Jan. 27 through the day of Jan. 28, volunteers in seven counties across the Denver metro area interviewed homeless individuals in the community.

“We ask about how long they’ve been homeless, what the causes have been, health conditions,” said Mindy Mohr, a PIT volunteer and member of the Permanent Supportive Housing Subcommittee of Heading Home Jeffco, which brings organizations together to end homelessness.

“Everyone has a story of why they’re in the situation they’re in,” Mohr said.

PIT surveyors visited the severe weather shelter in Olde Town Jan. 27, which opened at Cornerstone Church of God on Yarrow Street. Volunteers included individuals from Spirit of Christ Catholic Church, community group A Stronger Cord and others, there to serve shelter residents and complete the count.

For Danny Rubio from Spirit of Christ, PIT night was one of many he’s spent working in the shelter. He and his daughter Erica, a sophomore at Ralston Valley High School, often help check people in and serve dinner at the shelter.

“The basic foundation of life is having warmth, shelter and food,” Danny said. Having grown up in a family of nine, he knows what it’s like to be in need, and the cause is important to him, he said.

“These people are shunned by society, so that’s why I do it,” he said. “They’re special to me.”

Erica agreed.

“People should be comfortable, especially when it’s cold outside,” she said. “Even little steps at a time like this make a big difference.”

Residents at the shelter, like Woolsey and Anthony, said they support efforts like the PIT. They hope that the picture painted by the survey may lead to future grants and resources for the community.

“It’d be better to get something more consistent,” Anthony said, pointing to organizations that provide shelter each night, like Samaritan House Denver.

“If you don’t have somewhere where you can have consistency, you’re just going to be tossed back and forth,” he said. “But if you had a controlled environment, there’s a lot of people that could really do better in a quicker-paced manner.”

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