“Every day, Jesus walks through these doors,” said Bishop Jorge Rodríguez when he blessed Phase Two of the Samaritan House renovation project in 2021.
In the past several weeks, many more families than usual have walked through the doors of Samaritan House and been welcomed like Jesus. As the volume of families seeking shelter has sharply increased, the team at Catholic Charities has leaned into its mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor and those in need.
Samaritan House in Denver, as well as the shelters in Fort Collins and Greeley, have welcomed more families than ever who need safe shelter, nutritious food and support. Starting during the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing as the cold weather approaches, the need to make more room for families has skyrocketed.
“We’ve seen this influx for months now,” said Joshua Zielinski, program manager of the family floor at Samaritan House in downtown Denver. “We didn’t exactly know how we’d make it work, but we do know our mission which is why we jumped at this chance to help more families. We knew we’d have to make this work.”
The teams in Denver, Fort Collins and Greeley have reconfigured buildings to temporarily house more families than ever before, including reconfiguring women’s dorms, opening up common areas and even utilizing conference rooms and offices as spaces that families can stay together. Partitions have been constructed, temporary curtains have been hung and the staff has worked overtime to make sure that all who come through our doors are treated like the Holy Family on a cold night.
“We were able to take some pointers from our teams in Fort Collins and Greeley. We are actively working on all sorts of situations, as all families are different. We are piloting the conversion of some conference rooms into dorms for single fathers with their children,” said Zielinski.
Starting on October 13, the team at Samaritan House downtown moved 57 beds into the emergency family services program. At least seven, and up to 14, families will be served, based on family size, with priority based on immediate need and current situation. Families will be able to stay for two weeks with the opportunity for an extension. The goal will be to move families from the emergency family services to extended-stay based on their needs and goals. Families will have access to all on-site services, including case management, wellness consulting (clinical services), programming, meals and the clothing room. Two families have already taken shelter with dozens more scheduled for intakes.
“Within these walls, we get to love in small ways and in big. When I was cleaning the floors and setting up the new beds for these families, it was my way of showing them my love,” said Zach Taudien, a volunteer coordinator who was one of many staff members who helped prepare the dorms. He shared a quote attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta: “Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.”
“We are opening this space to show how loved every individual experiencing homelessness is,” said Taudien.
Those eligible include families (with either a single mother or single father or two-parent households) with children under the age of 18. This includes expectant mothers, who will start in our single women’s program and be transferred to family services (in their third trimester of pregnancy) as space becomes available. Priority will be given to the families actively on the waitlist with high vulnerability.