Leanne Wheeler, an aerospace engineer, says she never thought she'd become homeless. 

(Courtesy The Denver Foundation)

Homelessness can strike anyone. That's the message of a new campaign in metro Denver called "Close to Home," that hopes to give people a better understanding of who is homeless and how the community can help.

Rebecca Arno is with the Denver Foundation, one of a handful of non-profits and government groups leading the effort. Leanne Wheeler is also part of the campaign. Wheeler was trained as an aerospace engineer, lost her job during the recession, and eventually became homeless. She says she never expected it to happen to her.   

"I was stupefied as to why I was in this predicament," Wheeler said. "I was thinking about how highly credentialed I was and how well-employed I was -- and how employable I was."

But that feeling didn't last. 

"I went through this season of self-doubt. And then it became very present for me -- how you could easily slip into hopelessness,"  she said.

Wheeler isn't alone. Arno said her organization's research shows that 43 percent of metro-area residents have a close friend or family member who's either experienced homelessness or become very close.

"We ... traditionally think of homelessness as something that happens to other people, that it can't happen to us" Arno said. "When in fact, it absolutely does. It is very close to home."

The new campaign follows Denver's 10-year plan to end homelessness that city leaders acknowledge didn't happen. Arno said "Close To Home" is more about education and raising awareness.

"Every one of us has the capability of taking action," she said. "This is not just about giving money. It's about speaking up. It's about supporting organizations that are working with homeless individuals. It's about recognizing that people who are experiencing homelessness are just like you and I."

"Close to Home" suggests some ways to help

  • Organize a volunteer day, create and distribute survival or move-in kits, or see other ways you and family or co-workers can get involved.
  • Make cash donations to local homeless advocacy or care organizations or host a drive to collect new or gently used clothing to donate to homeless support organizations
  • Hire someone experiencing homelessness
  • Speak up at town meetings when homeless issues are being discussed
  • Write an article for a work newsletter or local newspaper about the issue
  • Encourage family, friends and co-workers to get involved by volunteering or contributing
  • Offer a homeless person food, water or a kind word when you encounter them