Church and state partner to carry out corporal works of mercy during pandemic and beyond

Aaron Lambert

In times of great need and crisis, we find strength in unity and collaboration, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, this truth remains within the Archdiocese of Denver.

For many years, the Archdiocese of Denver and local Colorado government officials have found ways to work together toward common goals and better serve the people of Colorado, which often includes carrying out corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. And through the COVID-19 pandemic, these partnerships continue to be a crucial part of Colorado’s and the Church’s response to those in need.

The City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have a history of partnering to support people in need. During the pandemic, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and his administration have worked with the archdiocese to safeguard the homeless population and extend testing for COVID-19 to communities at higher risk of struggling with the virus.

“These types of true collaborative relationships really make the difference because you can call on your partners [and] you have established relationships that are built on trust and built on true engagement and true focus on a mutually agreed upon mission,” Mayor Hancock told the Denver Catholic. “Catholic Charities and the archdiocese have been just tremendous partners over the years with us.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver told the Denver Catholic that “the Catholic Church is motivated to care for the poor and needy by Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us.

“The coronavirus pandemic,” he added, “has highlighted this important work and underscored the essential role the Catholic Church plays in fostering a society that upholds the God-given dignity of every person.

“It has been a blessing to be able to work with the City of Denver over many years to serve these vulnerable populations.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and the Archdiocese of Denver have partnered with Mayor Michael Hancock and the City of Denver in the past to better serve people in need, and they’ve continued those collaborative efforts through the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Recently, on July 10 and July 23, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver hosted events in partnership with Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello to provide testing for COVID-19 and a mobile food pantry to the local community.

“We have been looking for opportunities to be in the communities, to do the testing, to meet people where they are. And we recognize that Latinos and African-Americans in particular have been most vulnerable to this virus,” Mayor Hancock said. “We needed to really just make sure we took the opportunities for testing to those communities.”

Then, on Aug. 6, Ascension hosted another event in collaboration with the City of Denver where the mayor’s office gave away free backpacks with school supplies, healthy food baskets, baby products, feminine hygiene products and more.

“I am very thankful for Mayor Hancock’s collaboration to help the people of Montbello,” said Father Dan Norick, pastor of Ascension Parish. “I also thank God for the people in Montbello who are caring for each other in these difficult times. May Jesus be praised!”

Mayor Hancock said that hosting these events at Ascension Parish made sense because of the established relationship the City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have developed over the years.

“When you’re looking for who you partner with during these opportunities, you turn to who’s most familiar with you and who you’ve had a trusting collaboration with,” he said. “And it just so happens the archdiocese and the parish there have been the ones that we’ve worked with over the years. So it was very natural. It’s a place where people are familiar and a place they trust.”

It’s not only during the pandemic that this partnership has been fruitful, though. A strong partnership between Samaritan House and the city has existed for quite some time, and this relationship has borne much fruit over the years. Samaritan House strives to be more than a just a homeless shelter, providing education, life skills classes and one-on-one support for its residents to empower them to break free from the cycle of poverty and support themselves independently.

In August 2017, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver cut the ribbon on the first all-women’s shelter in the city. Called Samaritan House Women’s Shelter, it follows Samaritan House’s established model of helping those experiencing hard times find a way out of poverty and ultimately, bring hope to their lives. Each night, it offers 225 beds for women who are in need of immediate shelter.

Back in April, Catholic Charities teamed up with the City of Denver and took the lead on an auxiliary women’s shelter set up at the Denver Coliseum. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Back in April, in response to the pandemic and out of a need to maintain social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver partnered to set up the Denver Coliseum as a 24/7 auxiliary emergency women’s shelter that’s that was able to accommodate up to 300 women. Catholic Charities staff took the lead at the shelter with full support from the City of Denver. The auxiliary shelter has since returned to the regular women’s shelter facility, but this collaboration between the city and Catholic Charities was crucial as cases of COVID-19 climbed in April.

“When the pandemic hit, Catholic Charities had to find a way to social distance the ladies in its Women’s Emergency Shelter,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelters and Community Outreach. “We also had to provide them 24/7 care to honor the governor’s Stay-at-Home order and triage for the virus. Working with the City of Denver staff, we came together as a shelter community and obtained the use of the Denver Coliseum downtown. We were able to better provide social distancing, 24/7 shelter with three meals a day and other amenities, including showers and case management.

“We believe this effort with the city protected our most vulnerable community and helped prevent the spread of the virus. But more importantly, we made it safer for women experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.”

Featured image: Father Dan Norick hands out supplies during a community giveaway event hosted at Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello in conjunction with the City of Denver. (Photo provided)

COMING UP: Catholic Charities opens Denver’s largest women’s homeless shelter

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

New shelter to provide services for up to 150 single females a night

Roxanne King

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.”