After they suffered domestic violence and got turned down for low-income housing, Angela Browne wound up at the Gathering Place – a shelter that provides housing for those in need who aren’t cisgender men, at the Rodeway Motel on Federal Boulevard in Denver.
Laura Lindquist arrived there in February, after years of living on the streets. At night, other people stole her identification card and birth certificate, and since her arrival, she finally feels safe.
A broken leg and a broken–down car brought Becky Forthman in 18 months ago and left her feeling isolated.
“Now I feel like I’m on Access Hollywood or something,” she joked with a reporter and audio engineer visiting her room. “This is the most attention I’ve gotten for a long time.”
These and other shelter residents say humor helps cope with houselessness, but joke time is over: the motel will close its doors to the 71 women and transgender and non-binary people who currently live there rent-free on Aug. 24.
The building is currently owned by Denver Housing Authority; it purchased the drab beige structure in 2020 from one of the city’s affordable housing funds. Its use as a shelter was never a permanent plan: the city had a lease with the DHA, but that lease expires in August.
The Gathering Place – a non-profit organization that also runs a day shelter that welcomes 175 people every day on High Street and Colfax Avenue – began renting the space as an emergency housing option during the pandemic in August 2020.
But only for eight more weeks, much to the dismay of both residents and staff.
Many of the residents have already been helped in finding new shelter, But on Tuesday, Browne, Linquist and about three dozen others signed a petition that was delivered to Denver’s Office of Housing Stability.
“As a resident of Rodeway, I demand access to the following housing options: to be considered a real housing solution for me: 1. Housing or a housing voucher. 2. A hotel/other room for temporary stay until housing is secured (including a bathroom, privacy and a door that locks).”
It stemmed from a meeting two weeks ago in which residents talked about feeling suicidal at the prospect of going back to the streets, according to a press release from Housekey Action Network Denver, a group that advocates for dignity in housing and supports the residents.
Meloney Moore, 46, knows about suicidal thoughts. A resident since the beginning of 2023, she fills her moments during this stressful time online and meditating to cope with the news. She got there because she’s been unable to find a job that will let her get housed independently.
“My situation got so bad, it almost cost me my life,” Moore said. “It drove me to suicidal attempts. I went into a deep depression.”
Moore is not the only person struggling with the news, according to a staff member. “I think the initial reaction was a lot of shock,” said Lisa Adamson, a lead counselor at The Gathering Place.
TGP, as staffers call it, has a $6.2 million annual budget from various donors to offer residents rooms, meals, emotional support, help finding housing, and activities like pottery and tie-dying to help them connect with each other – all at no cost.
“Unfortunately, the city does not provide a lot of alternatives to the situation that we have here,” Adamson said. “I think it’s gonna be a tough battle for a lot of the women to be placed in stable housing.”
A unique housing model for the non-cis male houseless population
This model of shelter, where residents have their own private room and bathroom, is called non-congregate housing. It shields people from the added stressors of leaving during the day and seeking a bed in an open-air dorm each night. Implemented at The Gathering Place, it has allowed clients to gain enough stability to improve their lives. Since the relationship between TGP and the Rodeway Inn began in August 2020, they’ve placed 114 people in long-term housing – 65 of them since February 2022. In the past month, they placed three, bringing the number of residents down from 74 to 71.
Now that the lease is up, the DHA won’t continue to use the motel to support the unhoused, according to TGP CEO and President Megan Devenport. “Based on how things are going in the market and what their needs are, they’ve decided to sell it and then reinvest the money that they make on the project elsewhere,” she said.
Devenport said that TGP is unique in being at once both a non-congregate shelter and one that specifically serves the non-cis male population. ”We are not familiar with other projects like ours,” she said.
Data about homelessness for LGBTQ and non-binary people is scarce, but the Colorado Coalition On Homelessness wrote in its LGBTQ and Homeless Issue Brief 2021: “Over the last four years, the number of transgender adults experiencing homelessness increased 88 percent, and the number experiencing unsheltered homelessness increased 113 percent during the same period.” The coalition attributes this to the “discriminatory factors in law and society that [push] people who identify as transgender into unsafe circumstances.”
Conversations with residents shed some light on what day-to-day life feels like as they await the closure of the place they have called home.
Angela Browne, 58, was waiting in the parking lot to talk about the situation on a recent day, dressed in jeans and a flowing silk shawl. Behind them was a courtyard set up for guests to be together. Browne is sandwiched between generations, providing care for a grandson who has autism and an elderly grandfather. Their housing has been unsteady because they’ve had some jobs on and off, but some health and personal issues have kept them from high-paying work. Part of their irregular housing pattern is that jobs they have had before disqualified them from low-income housing, but those same jobs didn’t pay enough for them to pay a typical Denver rent. When a violent crime happened in their household during the pandemic, they went to a domestic violence shelter, only to see it close down.
Other shelters weren’t as receptive. Some of the medical needs of their family members kept them out of some of the other shelters, and they wound up at Rodeway Inn.
“When I was told [it was closing], I was shocked, you know?” they said, adding that support services there have helped soften the blow. “So now we’re dealing with the closure of the hotel and now we’re in a room thinking, ‘Wow, we’re not gonna have housing.’ So we try to get out of our room and interact in these activities . . . we have an office and a computing lab and all these supportive services. And then Denver came in and said, ‘Hey, we’re checking out.’”
They said that Gathering Place staffers have helped put together applications for other housing, but they haven’t gotten confirmation anywhere yet.
Becky Forthman, who spent her 61st birthday housed at the Gathering Place in a motel room she wheels around in in a manual wheelchair, is also in flux as to what will happen for her when the Gathering Place closes at the end of August. She’s been living in the motel for about a year and a half. Keeping a cheerful exterior, she said her being there was not for a lack of trying, or a lack of desire to have a more independent life – in Alaska if she could make it possible.
“I have quite a few really serious problems going on right now in my life,” said Forthman, who has gray hair and was comfortably dressed in her chair. She welcomed the interview because it gave her some regular conversation and interaction, which she and other guests said their lives were often lacking.
She has to see an orthopedic surgeon about her leg soon, she said. When it broke in two places, being in a wheelchair limited her mobility. Then her car broke down and she didn’t have the money to fix it, which started a downward spiral that ended at the Rodeway Inn.
Now she, like her neighbors, can’t stop worrying about the fact that this welcoming place will have to turn her away in two months. “Trying to get everything taken care of in this timeframe is gonna be very difficult,” she said, “but I’m hanging in there.” With a mischievous smile she added, “I’m trying to keep my chins up, both of ‘em.”
Laura Lindquist, 46, occupies a room a few doors down from Becky’s. She has been homeless since her thirties and has suffered domestic violence that left her with a brain injury. With her hair in a ponytail, wearing a tank top and pajama bottoms, she came to The Gathering Place in February; since then, she’s organized her clothes, toiletries and stuffed animals on shelves and countertops. Finally, she is in a space where she doesn’t fear violence or theft.
“I have my own bathroom,” she said. “I have my own closet, my own bed. This is just my area. I don’t have any … nobody comes in. I can actually lock it.” Being safely housed allowed her to rebuild, at least for now: “I can start buying stuff. I was able to buy clothes and they not get stolen.” She said the staff was able to help her get a duplicate copy of her birth certificate and other forms of ID that were stolen from her while she tried to survive on the streets, often not knowing where she would rest her head any given night.
Like her neighbors at the motel, who have come to rely on each other and the services there, Lindquist expressed the sentiment others were also feeling: “Now I’m afraid I’m gonna end up losing everything again. . . it’s the first place to be able to call home, and they're taking it away.”
Housing those with complex cases
Devenport, the CEO, said that since learning of the closure, staff people have been working hard to find places for residents to live, and have been successful with 48 of the 71.
“Sixty-eight percent of people are connected to a housing resource,” she said. Those include a housing voucher through DHA or a state or city program, a sober living facility, assisted living, a group home or substance abuse treatment.
Those who have not yet been placed are their more complex cases, with health needs or limitations that make their being able to be housed elsewhere more difficult.
Those challenges could include: “folks with issues with accessing documents, challenges with past felony records, citizenship status in progress on an asylum case, or folks who are undocumented,” Devenport said, adding: “and some may have challenges taking care of their basic needs at home,” which would complicate finding a housing placement.
Regardless of their current challenges, she said, they belong in a safe space to live: “These folks deserve to be treated with dignity, and deserve to be able to make choices that are in alignment with their goals and their desires, and to be cared for by this community as the human beings that they are.”
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