Looking back at the Emergency Shelter Program’s First Year

After about a year of planning, developing policies and procedures, recruiting and training volunteers, and raising funds, the Emergency Shelter Program (ESP) opened in October 2016. We have had a successful year of sheltering individuals on the coldest of winter nights while  providing a supportive and nurturing environment. ESP closed for the season at the end of April. ESP’s success was evident in its nomination by the Evergreen Chamber as Best Non-Profit of the Year.  Although we did not win, we take that as a testament to our success.

ESP was initially conceived by the non-profit organization At Home in Evergreen, that was created by a  group of concerned citizens who realized that there is a very real need in the Evergreen area for affordable housing.  At Home recognized the additional  need for immediate shelter for those who are homeless on the coldest winter nights. The idea for ESP was hatched. At Home teamed up with EChO, the Seniors’ Resource Center and religious congregations and the ESP Leadership Group was formed. The ESP Leadership Group participating organizations include: At Home in Evergreen, EChO, the Seniors’ Resource Center, Congregation Beth Evergreen, Evergreen Lutheran Church, Bergen Park Church, Church of the Transfiguration, The Sanctuary, Church of the Hills, Christ the King Catholic Church, Evergreen Christian Church and United Methodist Church of Evergreen.

The shortage of affordable housing is real; most Jeffco municipalities are seeing median rental prices approaching $2,000 a month.  As reported in 2014, the number of homeless school children in Colorado has more than tripled in the past 10 years.

According to the 2016 Colorado Point-in-Time (http://mdhi.org/point-in-time/) count of homeless people, 611 individuals were counted as homeless in Jefferson County, and another 285 people were at-risk and living on the edge of homelessness. These numbers are likely to be low with the real population predicted to be much higher.

Despite this information, one of the most common questions asked when talking about ESP is –  Is homelessness really a problem in Evergreen?  The simple answer is yes, but homelessness can look a little bit different in Evergreen compared to Lakewood or Denver.  In Evergreen, many of the people who have approached EChO for assistance or for shelter do not fit into categories most often associated with homeless individuals. Often times, people who are experiencing homelessness in Evergreen and the surrounding mountain communities are living in cars or vans, tents or on the couches of friends on a time limited basis.

For this reason, homelessness is a hidden problem in the mountains and many community members are are not aware of the need for shelter and affordable housing.

ESP, At Home and EChO also feels strongly that the need is real. Between August 2016 and April of 2017,  EChO registered 28 individuals to use the shelter all of whom were either homeless, at risk of eviction, or housing insecure (staying on someone’s couch).  At least another 20 individuals and/or families (ESP did not shelter families this year) were provided information about ESP, but did not choose to register. ESP was open 47 nights and provided 110 person/nights of shelter to 8 individuals between December 2016 and April 2017.  ESP was very busy in December, January and  February, but because of the the warm weather in March and April, the shelter did not open as often.  In addition, a number of the regular guests moved on to other, improved situations.  Two guests obtained permanent housing and one guest moved to transitional housing and substance abuse treatment.

None of this could not have been achieved without the support of the amazing ESP volunteers and additional supporting organizations that provided some of the funding and donations necessary to run ESP.  Since February of 2016, ESP trained and conducted 5 volunteer trainings and trained 161 individuals.  Of that number, 112 individuals contributed over 1,634 volunteer hours!

ESP has some plans for next year that include researching the efficacy of sheltering families, the purchase of more comfortable bedding, additional training for volunteers and continuing to recruit additional host sites and volunteers. A mini-van donated to EChO will assist in the guest transportation to and from the ESP shelters.

Our volunteers are the backbone of ESP.  A big thank you to all volunteers who may have worked on the planning and implementation of the program, to those that cooked or served meals, provided transportation, to those that made the guests feel respected and cared for and a HUGE thank you to the team of volunteers that volunteered 10-11 sleepless hours to monitor the shelter overnight.

For more information or to volunteer, contact Kaethe Zellner kaethe@evergreenchristianoutreach.org

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