From providing emergency shelter to women who find themselves homeless, to offering them transitional housing as they gain the stability of a job and save for their own home, to the chance to be part of a communal home, Catholic ministries in the Archdiocese of Denver strive to help homeless and formerly homeless women become self-sufficient.
Testimonies share the success of these efforts. To protect their privacy, the women included here will only be identified by their first names.
Gift of Mary Shelter
“Homelessness is not only not having a home made of bricks, but homeless is being rejected, unwanted, unloved by society,” St. Mother Teresa often said. She added, “And Jesus said, ‘whatever you do for these, you do for me.’”
St. Mother Teresa’s nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, run Gift of Mary Shelter in a building attached to St. Joseph Parish offices and classrooms, located at Sixth Avenue and Fox Street in Denver. There, in a nondescript stucco building over a large garage, four nuns use half the space for their convent and use the other half to shelter up to eight women, typically for a month, which can be extended to three months if they find a job and need the extra time to save up for a permanent place. It’s a simple shelter meant to provide a safe place to sleep, meals, showers and a prayerful community to help the women get back on their feet. On a recent visit to the home, none of the residents were Catholic.
“Our purpose, like Mother [Teresa] always said, is to [serve] those who are rejected, who are lonely, to the poorest of the poor…to build up a family here,” explained Sister Rosella, superior of the Missionaries of Charity. “We pray together as a family. They do their chores. They try to find a job. They have structure and dignity.”
“I was a hot mess when I got here,” Mississippi native Madeline, 21, told the Denver Catholic in the sitting room of the shelter July 1. Expressing gratitude to the sisters for the shelter and their loving care she added: “God’s been blessing me. I started working a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m looking for an apartment and I’m hoping to go to school.”
“We don’t want them to live a shelter-to-shelter kind of lifestyle,” Sister Rosella told the Denver Catholic. “When they leave here, we refer them to [Catholic Charities’] Marisol Homes and to [the Capuchin Franciscan’s] Julia Greeley Home, which offer more resources to them.”
Emergency Women’s Shelter
It’s possible that Gift of Mary is the smallest women’s shelter in Denver. It’s certain that Catholic Charities’ Women’s Emergency Shelter, a satellite of Samaritan House downtown, which serves men, women and families, is the largest. The 32,000-square-foot renovated facility opened nearly two years ago in northeast Denver. It provides 65 percent of the shelter services to homeless women in the city.
“We care for up to 225 women every night [between the two locations], and if there’s bad weather, we can get creative and take more,” said Mike Sinnett, vice president of shelters and community outreach for Catholic Charities Denver. “We’ve never turned a lady away at night due to capacity. And we’re open every day of the year. We never close.”
The women gather at 5 p.m. daily at Samaritan House, located at 2301 Lawrence St., and are bussed to the satellite location. They get a hot dinner and breakfast, a safe place to sleep and shower, and the opportunity to connect to other vital support services through the wide-ranging Catholic Charities network. The women can stay as long as they need to, Sinnett said.
“Our purpose is to get these ladies, who are the least served homeless population in Denver, off the streets and in a safe environment, “ Sinnett said. “We protect them, feed them, love them, and we try to help them where they are in their journey and get them on a trajectory of recovery.”
Catholic Charities also offers a transitional program for homeless women through its Marisol Homes, formerly called the Father Ed Judy House. Located at one site in Lakewood, Marisol Homes offers community-based housing to single women, pregnant women and single women with children. Unlike emergency shelters, which help women with temporary shelter and addressing immediate needs, Marisol Homes aid them in finding long-term financial and housing stability.
“I left with self-esteem, responsibility and an education,” said Jennifer, a former Marisol Homes resident, in a testimonial video. “They supported me in everything. I’m very blessed to have been at Marisol.”
The majority of Marisol Homes residents have fled domestic violence. Seeking a safe environment for her and her son, Jennifer moved to Colorado from California. Marisol Homes connected her with a case manager who helped her establish benefits. Within four months of her stay, Jennifer found permanent housing. In 2018, she graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and entered a master’s program. She aims to pay forward what she’s received by helping others in need in her career.
“[Marisol Homes] made a big impression on my life,” Jennifer said.
“There is no time limit on a family’s stay,” said Jan McIntosh, vice president of Marisol Women’s Services. “We walk with them through their journey [to self-sufficiency] and beyond as they establish themselves in their new life.”
Mary’s Homes of Hope
Third Order Franciscan Lynn Reid began providing maternity homes for women in need 21 years ago in the metro area shortly after she converted to Catholicism at age 52. A year ago, she moved focus from that ministry to a new one aiding women who have been through emergency and/or transitional housing and now desire a permanent Christ-centered communal home.
“I felt a strong calling that had been on my heart for a very long time about the piece missing that is now the reality of Mary’s Homes of Hope,” Reid said. “Once the babies were born and the moms were ready to go out on their own, they were shored up in faith but most only got into government housing, which is God-absent. It was really getting them back into a very dependent lifestyle. Some even lost their children.”
Today, Reid serves as director of Mary’s Homes of Hope and lives in the ministry’s large spacious house — complete with a chapel — located in Arvada. She shares the home with four other women, one of which has one young child full-time and a second child who spends part of the time with his father.
The ministry, which is operated by a board, depends on providence for funding and gets spiritual support from the Capuchin Franciscans. A Catholic family purchased the home, which they lease to the ministry.
Life at the home includes daily communal prayer time, Mass twice a month in the chapel on Saturdays (the women all worship at parishes on Sundays), and regular Scripture- and faith study. All the residents work, buy groceries and pay a nominal amount toward rent.
“They have a definite purpose in their life, following and committing to be part of this Christ-centered community,” Reid said. “They can stay till God calls them home if they want. Some will want to consider purchasing a home. But it’s their moving on, not us saying you can only be here a year or two.”
The members seek to live the type of communal life Christians shared in the early Church and to carry out Christ’s mandate to St. Francis of Assisi to rebuild the Church by being his light and love in the world and sharing the Good News, Reid said.
“It’s Gospel in the life and life in the Gospel,” she said. “That’s really what the order of St. Francis is. We live the life of Christ and we are called to go out and share that.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Gift of Mary Shelter: 303-860-8040
Emergency Women’s Shelter: 303-294-0241
Marisol Homes: 720-799-9400
Mary’s Homes of Hope: 303-424-9007