Building people up to take down homelessness

July 08, 2016 | GET MORE : Community

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This nonprofit is making home possible for formerly homeless individuals in Denver. 

As Denver grapples with skyrocketing rents and a sharp uptick in homeless people, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is working to ease the city's burden while providing the homeless with health care and permanent homes.

Working with U.S. Bank, CCH has built four separate affordable apartment complexes to house veterans and other homeless families and individuals. Widening the impact, the coalition also built the Stout Street Health Center, which provides a full-range of medical, dental, psychological and vision care. The end result is that some 500 individuals are off the streets and hundreds more are getting much-needed health care.

"The coalition is focused on creating lasting solutions to homelessness," said John Parvensky, president and CEO of the coalition. "So we're not just providing overnight shelter for individuals, but rather long-term housing opportunities to individuals who need that ongoing support to address their mental health, addictions or other issues that might have contributed to their homelessness. We provide families and individuals with stability so that they can address the issues that caused their homelessness and, over time, sustain themselves."

In one of its most visible efforts downtown, CCH opened Stout Street Health Center and the adjacent Renaissance Stout Street Lofts in August 2014. The 78 apartments give the homeless a permanent escape from the streets. The health center, which replaced a small, outdated facility, cares for more patients than ever.

"We see a population that no one else wants to see at all," explained Mary Lea Forington, director of integrated health services at CCH. "Oftentimes, they have absolutely nowhere else to go. The service we provide to people who are homeless provides hope for them."

One of the first residents accepted at Stout Street lofts had lost both legs to frostbite from living on the streets for many years. The outreach workers from CCH helped him fill out paperwork and accept the idea of changing his life by getting off the streets. Not only did he move into one of the disabled-accessible apartments, but he also got a full range of consistent health care.

"Our goal is to move folks from the streets and to do that, they need health care and mental health services. To integrate affordable and supportive housing with the health services is really game changing," Parvensky said. "The ability to serve more people and to get them housed has been a blessing."

The challenge is great with some 4,000 people numbered among the homeless in Denver—up from 3,000 in 2014. The homeless tend to be sicker, with more chronic problems aggravated by lack of health care and living in the elements, Forington said.

But the community has embraced the coalition's work, particularly the Stout Street Health Center and Lofts.

For example, one homeless mom had tried to care for her young son after he received bilateral cornea transplants at birth. Without health care, the boy's transplants had failed and he was going to go blind. But thanks to health-care navigators taking up his case, volunteer ophthalmologists in the community agreed to provide another transplant. On Christmas Eve 2015, the boy received another transplant and now has limited vision.

"We are good at creating those partnerships within the community. It would be easy to give up, but I work with people who don't give up; they just keep going."

CCH's partnership with U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation was instrumental in bringing about the clinic and apartments. USBCDC provided loans and investments that bridged a financing gap for CCH.

"The financing for this was more complicated than what we've ever done and the bank was there every step of the way," Parvensky said.

In the end, Stout Street Health Center has boosted the number of vision visits by half, doubled its dental visits and provided about 21,000 patient appointments, thanks to the new clinic.

"That really points to the fact that miracles happen here," Forington said.

Shera Dalin is a member of U.S. Bank's corporate communications team.