Shelter season ends with hope, insight

The Bridge Emergency Shelter

Donna Boyd Enlargephoto

Donna Boyd

First and foremost, I want to thank all the wonderful, compassionate people and organizations who volunteered, donated funds, provided food or other goods for our clients. We could not provide the services, nor have the impact we do, without you. Thank you! Special thanks to Hope’s Kitchen and Grace’s Kitchen for providing so many hot dinners for us to serve. And thank you to Axis Integrated Health Care for providing a counselor to our clients.

We have concluded our sixth season and it’s a good time to review the new programs and policies introduced at the Bridge during the 2011-2012 season. As a direct result of separating sober and intoxicated clients, we experienced a calmer, more hopeful atmosphere this season. While there are always difficult stories and circumstances contributing to homelessness, there is also hope: hope for a safe, warm place to rest; hope for new employment; hope for new housing; hope for a hot meal and a hot shower; hope for support staying clean and sober; hope for others who didn’t or won’t come in out of the cold.

For the first time, our long-term clients have assigned beds in specific rooms. We had daily and weekly room chores and house chores. For trusted clients we also had additional “helping out” activities. These included stocking rooms, washing dishes, serving meals or helping with laundry. Our goal was to instill general life skills to those who have forgotten them or were never taught. We sought to instill respect for self and others. The response to these new policies was overwhelming! Clients took pride in their assigned space and worked hard not to lose it or to regain it if they had a little slip-up. They took pride in the cleanliness of the shelter and completing their chores well. They stepped up to help with much more than just the chores needed to keep our home clean and in good repair.

One of my favorite pastimes is tracking how things are changing. I love looking at numbers and figuring out how they change and what they represent. Here is what I discovered this year. The Bridge provided shelter and warm meals for 224 people. We also had 3,611 bed nights and served over 8,200 meals. That is about one-third more than the 2010-2011 season. However, our number of clients was nearly the same as last year, and our nights open were the same as last year. Why the increase in bed nights and meals? Lack of employment is a story we heard repeatedly and frequently. Another common theme was under-employment. We had many clients who worked full time but were unable to bring in financial support to maintain an apartment or house and pay utilities and buy food.

What did this look like on a nightly basis? We started the season out in October of 2011 with a bang. Within the first two weeks, we were averaging 20-plus clients a night, the equivalent of last season’s busiest month. In the heart of winter we had seven days scattered over a couple of weeks when we housed nearly 40 clients a night. We also had a dozen men who spent nearly the entire season here — all on the dry-side of the house. Most of them were employed or actively seeking employment, schooling or housing.

Other numbers show that nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of our clients this season maintained sobriety and were housed on the “dry side of the house.” Only 25 percent of our clients were returning intoxicated individuals; conversely 75 percent of our clients were sober and/or new to the Bridge.

They are people who have run into bad times and need a little help lifting the depression, overcoming the fear and getting back on their feet. Most have lost their jobs, their homes, their families and their transportation. Many have physical and mental health issues for which they need ongoing care. They are people who are deserving of respect and compassion.

We had some exciting success stories this year. The volunteers and staff at the Bridge were able to actively assist 19 individuals over the course of the season to return home, find work, find housing, receive medical care (cancer treatment), get signed up for services (veterans and seniors), get an AA sponsor, learn to use a computer, and best of all, enroll in Pueblo Community College. One individual has completed his hazmat transport certifications and is now working full-time.

All of these individuals have worked hard to improve their circumstances. I am proud to be affiliated with an organization that was so instrumental in helping them get back on their feet. I’m eager to see how the numbers will compare next season and fully anticipate continued success. I invite you to volunteer with the Bridge Emergency Shelter on- or off-season or if you just want to have a look around call me at 970-565-9808 or send an email to BridgeEmergencyShelter@gmail.com and we’ll set something up.

The biggest lesson I learned this season can be summed up with this quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Treat people as if they are what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

Donna Boyd is shelter manager for the Bridge.

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