When you tell the universe, “I desire to work with a small, scrappy nonprofit that needs my communications and connecting skills,” hold on tightly; your wish might come true.
I left my director of communications position at Regis University, a stellar institution of higher education with a Jesuit Catholic orientation, to work for Colorado Village Collaborative, a young, action-oriented nonprofit that is helping address Denver-area homelessness in innovative ways.
CVC builds tiny homes – each is about 100 square feet – and assembles them in small communities in Denver. Right now, we have two of these villages providing safe, supportive housing and additional resources. We also operate the Safe Outdoor Spaces you may have read about and seen. Currently, three of these remarkable communities, each with about 40 sturdy ice-fishing tents, exist in the Denver area. One of them is at Regis University through April.
These two programs serve about 200 people each day.
Safe Outdoor Spaces developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are temporary, emergency housing in partnership with the City and County of Denver that provide secure, services-rich shelters, staffed 24/7, for people experiencing homelessness.
And they are brilliant.
Safe Outdoor Spaces are what this city needs to respond nimbly to the pandemic. They are not without their challenges – ask the project manager who has to envision the plumbing, electrical systems and logistics of each location – but these are housing solutions during a time of collective duress. And they work.
The first Safe Outdoor Space opened on Capitol Hill last December. It has since closed – its lease was for six months – and others have opened. In only one year, CVC has operated Safe Outdoor Spaces at Park Hill, Regis, Denver Health and – soon – in the parking lot of Denver Human Services East in the Northeast Denver Clayton neighborhood.
Talk about action. Talk about agility. That is CVC.
For any of us, it’s a leap of faith to leave a comfortable position among beloved colleagues to strike out into new terrain. Have you noticed that as we age, we become more averse to risk? We become comfortably set in our ways. I’m not immune to this. Becoming CVC’s first director of development and communications was a great challenge to my own complacency, and I thank CVC for trusting my skills and connections.
Housing is a basic human right. Whether you care deeply about your fellow humans or are aggrieved by unsanctioned encampments in downtown Denver, as well as those appearing in other cities along the Front Range, we must all advocate for better housing solutions.
Homelessness is not an individual problem. It’s our collective shame.
Our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors, ought not be sleeping on cold, hard sidewalks and under spruce trees in city parks. This is a here-and-now disaster that has grown grave from a lack of action by all levels of government.
We scramble now to solve these problems, but they’re deeply rooted in our societal fabric. Individual people don’t create mass homelessness. Societies do. The cost is written on the bodies of the people who suffer individually.
In this country, homelessness has been caused by the lack of affordable housing, incomes not keeping pace with the cost of living, racial inequalities, domestic violence, and resulting mental health and substance misuse issues.
As we embrace capitalism without guardrails and wealth becomes increasingly concentrated at the top, we shame ourselves by not making sure the poorest and neediest among us are taken care of.
We’ve taken our eye off the ball. The City and County of Denver, including its Department of Housing Stability and the downtown Denver Central Library, is trying to remedy this. Many nonprofits work with CVC, including the St. Francis Center, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Urban Peak, The Gathering Place and the Denver Street Outreach Collaborative, to serve our unhoused neighbors.
If you would like to help our unhoused neighbors, please contact me. Cole Chandler, CVC’s co-founder and executive director, and I welcome your ideas and your helping hands. In the coming year, I’ll be planning events to broaden awareness about the causes of Denver homelessness and to fundraise for our programs.
Our dedicated staff is small; volunteers keep CVC going. If you’d like to volunteer to help build a Safe Outdoor Space or provide a meal for one of our many communities, we welcome your love in action. Visit our website (www.coloradovillagecollaborative.org) to learn more about how you can help.
Jennifer Forker is the Director of Development and Communications for Colorado Village Collaborative, which exists to bridge the gap between the streets and stable housing. CVC is working to advance dignified solutions that significantly reduce Denver’s unsheltered homeless population. Since its founding in 2017, CVC has launched five transformational housing projects, including two tiny home villages and three Safe Outdoor Spaces that have provided more than 20,000 nights of safe, dignified shelter in partnership with people coming from homelessness. To learn more about CVC or to donate to support our work, please visit www.coloradovillagecollaborative.org. Email Jennifer at email@example.com.