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Catholic Charities opens Denver’s largest women’s homeless shelter

On Aug. 24, Catholic Charities opened the largest women’s-only homeless shelter in Denver.

Samaritan House Women’s Shelter in northeast Denver will offer emergency overnight shelter for up to 100 single women and will accommodate another 50 women with a 29-day non-medical detox program designed to help them transition from homelessness.

Set to begin taking residents Sept. 15, the new site will enable Charities to shelter up to 250 single women a night when combined with the women’s quarters at Samaritan House downtown. More than 500 women will receive services annually through the 29-day program.

“Today, we’re here to celebrate a new era in offering services to homeless women in Denver,” Larry Smith, president and CEO of Charities in the Denver Archdiocese, told those gathered at the grand opening, which included Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, and invited guests.

From left, Catholic Charities President and CEO Larry Smith, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, and Denver City Councilman Christopher Herndon pose for a photograph during the grand opening of the Samaritan House Women’s Shelter on August 24, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo provided by The Catholic Alliance)

The shelter’s emergency service will provide women with hot meals at Samaritan House on Lawrence Street downtown before and after transporting them to the new northeast site for the night. The shelter’s transitional program will offer women onsite meals and shelter, recovery and counseling resources, and help finding employment.

“It will allow them to collect themselves and realize that they have dignity—dignity in the eyes of God and dignity in the eyes of other human beings, which is oftentimes lost by the homeless,” Smith said. “Our goal is to have these women gain stability—stable income, stable housing—and at the end, and most importantly… self-reliance and self respect.”

The $5.1 million, 32,000-square-foot renovated facility was realized in partnership with the city of Denver, which provided a $1 million grant.

“On any given night, 150 souls can be here in this facility…150 souls can receive a tailored response to their needs,” Mayor Hancock told the crowd. Noting that he had just come from the opening of the Sanderson Apartments in southwest Denver, a city project that will serve the chronically homeless, he added, “This is a big day in the life of our city.”

Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates Mass in the Samaritan House Women’s Shelter chapel during the grand opening event on August 24, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo provided by The Catholic Alliance)

The 2017 point-in-time survey by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative shows that a third of the homeless population on a given night in January were women (1,722). Single women are among the fastest growing segments of homelessness in the nation and have a higher failure rate leaving homelessness than men because they experience greater trauma, the archbishop and Smith said.

“Here they know that they’re safe and get shelter from the storm of homelessness,” Smith told the Denver Catholic, adding that once they’re stable they can enter a more aggressive four-month program at the downtown Samaritan House that aims to further equip them to live independently.

In addition to the sleeping quarters, the new shelter includes a chapel, a prayer garden, a patio for smokers, private showers, a computer lab, a dining area and a commercial kitchen. The upper floor will house the majority of Charities’ administrative offices, which are moving from their current site in northwest Denver to keep workers “on the front lines” with the people they serve. Officials said the sale of the old administrative facility will help pay for the new shelter.

Catholic Charities President and CEO Larry Smith (R) gives Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock (C) and Denver City Councilman Christopher Herndon (L) a tour during the grand opening event of the Samaritan House Women’s Shelter on August 24, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo provided by The Catholic Alliance)

“[This] is a great joint effort by the city and the Church to reach out and help the most vulnerable,” Archbishop Aquila told the gathering. “It is a reminder to every person that no one is a ‘throwaway’ as Pope Francis has so often told us.”

The archbishop added his gratitude to that of Smith and Hancock to thank all who collaborated and donated to bring the facility to completion.

“God has never meant for anyone to be homeless,” he said. “He permits it, but it is us who have to be the ones who welcome the homeless and let them know their dignity.

“I know the Lord will bless you,” he added, “for he will never be outdone in generosity.”

Roxanne King
Roxanne King is the former editor of the Denver Catholic Register and a freelance writer in the Denver area.
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