History of Sacred Heart House of Denver

Catherine Bevanda founded Sacred Heart House in 1980, after she learned that the convent next to Sacred Heart School in lower downtown Denver had closed. Catherine, who came to Denver to study at Loretto Heights, supported herself by working at an orphanage and at Marycrest Convent, which was operating a skeletal homeless shelter at the time. Thinking she could expand on that idea in the abandoned convent, she opened its doors to those people in Denver, who, for one reason or another, found themselves homeless.

In 1982, Sr. Susanna Kennedy of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth from nearby Annunciation Parish became director. Under her guidance, the mission to serve those who truly wanted to become self-sufficient developed. Within a short period of time, this self-sufficiency program gained attention, respect and financial support from the Denver community. In April 1991, Sacred Heart House of Denver was incorporated in Colorado as a non-sectarian, non-profit organization for charitable and educational purposes.

Through its In-House Stabilization Program, Sacred Heart House of Denver provides temporary emergency housing, food, clothing and transportation to meet residents’ immediate physical needs. With case management, they are provided with the housing, education/job training/placement, health care, counseling and childcare referrals to effect both short-term and long-term solutions to the problems that led to their homelessness. Weekly living skills classes teach the six mothers with children and three single women residing at Sacred Heart House at any given time, problem-solving skills and familiarize them with community resources. During our 2010/2011 Fiscal Year, 204 homeless individuals, 58 mothers with 101 children and 45 single women, had the opportunity to rebuild their lives with the support of the In-House Stabilization Program.

In 1987, in response to repeated requests for help to build on the stabilization reached during their stay at the shelter, Sacred Heart House of Denver responded to former residents’ needs by establishing a Follow-Up Program. It is this Program that makes the agency unique and sets it apart from other service providers: It is unrealistic to expect residents who have had the isolation of their homelessness diffused by a caring staff, to survive independently after a short stay in a shelter. The Follow-Up Program provides a venue for Sacred Heart House to help former residents find solutions to problems, minimize failures and celebrate successes (and provide a box of groceries when food runs low before payday!), while they increase their self-sufficiency.

After residents are successful in obtaining housing, the Follow-Up Program helps them continue the process of reintegrating into the community. Contact with the place and the support of the people who cared for them during the initial stages of their crises enable them to continue developing the skills to live successfully. As they grow in awareness of community resources, Sacred Heart House is a continued presence in their lives. To assist in reestablishing households, furniture and household items are provided as they are donated to Sacred Heart House. A monthly newsletter, holiday help, living skills workshops, resource referrals and problem-solving help keep former residents, over 800 in number, 208 families with 534 children and 92 single women, connected to Sacred Heart House and provide positive reinforcement for progress toward independent living.

In 1999, Sacred Heart House of Denver expanded its services to include a Transitional Housing Program for single mothers to increase their earning power through education. With funds from Denver’s Housing & Neighborhood Development Services, Sacred Heart House purchased six condominium units in southeast Denver to provide affordable housing for these women and their children. Case management, with guidance focused on financial and household management and effective parenting, helps six mothers in this Program develop a high level of self-sufficiency and prepares them to eliminate the possibility of homelessness from their futures.

In addition to having the support of a small, accessible and responsive staff, residents of Sacred Heart House of Denver have the opportunity to interact daily with one or more of our 745 volunteers from the community, whose service is an integral part of our programs. Trained volunteers stay with residents from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. each evening, and while securing the House, provide support in conversation without judgment, as friends; they also provide childcare during living skills classes.

Some volunteers are former residents, who have particular empathy for those trying to put their lives back together. Volunteers also cook Sunday dinner and help with overnight management. Parents and children from metro Denver elementary schools and churches prepare dinner and share it with residents throughout each month. Regis University provides volunteers in various capacities through its Service Learning Program, which is part of the curriculum of its School of Nursing. A holiday Adopt-a-Family Program gives families and businesses the opportunity to share their joy with those who need their help.

The contribution of volunteers’ talents and their commitment to Sacred Heart House complement the financial support received from foundations, individuals, churches and business organizations in the Denver community. This support enabled Sacred Heart House to raise matching funds to secure a Community Development Block Grant for the renovation of its building, which was built in 1886. In December 1994, Sacred Heart House of Denver completed this project.

Sacred Heart House of Denver is the beneficiary of in-kind goods and services, ranging from food, clothing, furniture and household goods to pro-bono family therapy services, provided by the Denver Family Institute. Other service providers, including Families First, the Conflict Center, Denver Office of Economic Development’s Homeless Initiative, Community Housing Services, Inc., TCF Bank and Community College of Denver’s Career and Education Center are among those who provide speakers for these classes. They offer information on such subjects as childcare/parenting, abuse/domestic violence, personal growth/conflict resolution/stress management, employment/job search, education health/nutrition and housing. Residents develop an improved sense of self-esteem by gaining knowledge and resources to deal constructively with problem situations in their lives.

With continued funding, over the next year, Sacred Heart House of Denver expects to provide its continuum of services to up to 200 additional individuals, 50+ homeless mothers with children and up to 50 single women, who want to become self- sufficient. (The number of clients served depends upon the sizes of families, the availability of housing and the time it takes to secure it.) The Follow-Up Program will provide ongoing support to its former residents, while offering its services to all who stay at the shelter during the year. The agency will provide affordable housing and case management for six women through its Transitional Housing Program.

The women who receive the services of our programs are not usually homeless as the result of a single crisis, such as a recent job loss, but rather, as the result of more complex issues. Domestic problems and evictions connected to inability to pay rent or mortgage payments lead the list of causes of homelessness for recent residents. In addition, many women have migrated to Denver in search of employment. Some are facing the aftermath of substance abuse problems and chronic physical or mental illness. Lack of job training and education and limited options for affordable housing further complicate their situations. Their lives have been shaped by unhealthy behavior patterns and unfortunate circumstances. By helping residents identify and begin to solve their problems, Sacred Heart House of Denver enables them to move toward self-sufficiency.

After a telephone interview with our case manager, a woman who comes to Sacred Heart House sets goals she wishes to accomplish during her residency. The case manager guides her in this process, and provides her with appropriate referrals for housing (such as Warren Village, Decatur Place, the Colburn, Joshua Station, Family Tree), medical care (Denver Health Medical Center, Stout Street Clinic), if necessary, and Denver Department of Human Services to apply for Temporary Aid to Needy Families. During the day, infants and toddlers are cared for at suitable day care providers selected by their mothers, while their mothers pursue housing and education/employment goals. Older children are enrolled in neighborhood schools and participate in Kaleidoscope, an after-school program at Whittier Elementary School. Women with children, who demonstrate an interest in increasing their education are referred to educational resources including Emily Griffith Opportunity School and the Community College of Denver and are considered for Sacred Heart’s Transitional Housing Program.

Housed in a relatively small building, Sacred Heart House of Denver provides its services in a warm, homelike atmosphere, allowing the six families and three single women served at one time to feel as comfortable as they would feel in a loving home. Responsibility is emphasized through participation in evening and Saturday chores. After four weeks and frequent case management meetings, a resident who is committed to self-sufficiency is ready to move into permanent or transitional housing. If her housing is not immediately available, the case manager arranges an interim stay at a longer-term facility, such as Samaritan House or Brandon Center. When she moves, she remains connected to Sacred Heart House of Denver as part of the Follow-Up Program, eligible for all its services, from its monthly newsletter, furniture and household goods, to emergency food and holiday help.

Since their services are provided free of charge, the In-House Stabilization, Follow-Up and Transitional Housing Programs at Sacred Heart House of Denver will never be self-supporting. The Agency provides affordable housing in six condominium units in southeast Denver in its Transitional Housing Program. The six affordable housing properties owned by Sacred Heart House of Denver have 20-year interest-free loans from Denver Housing & Neighborhood Development Services. Five of the six loans are forgiven at the end of the 20-year period, provided the units are used in accordance with HUD guidelines. The minimal amount of rent received from the properties is applied to Homeowner’s Association fees and maintenance expenses. Case management and follow-up services are provided to families in these transitional units at no cost to them.

During the 2010/2011 Fiscal Year, Sacred Heart House of Denver was supported by foundations (58%), individuals (13%), competitive public funds through an Emergency Shelter Grant (3%), faith-based organizations (3%), business organizations (4%), Caring Connection – workplace giving (2%), interest and investment income (2%), unrealized gain on short term investments (8%), unrealized mortgage payable (6%), and rental income (1%). Sacred Heart House of Denver submits applications to foundations, corporations and faith-based organizations each year. Cultivating new donors within these groups is always a priority. Sacred Heart House competes annually for public funds in the form of an Emergency Shelter Grant. Fortunately, Sacred Heart House of Denver also has many individual donors, who have supported of our mission for 31 years. Sacred Heart House intends to keep its programs worthy of their continued support.

Sacred Heart House expects to provide its services in accordance with the program descriptions presented above. The primary indicator of success of the In-House Stabilization Program is the percentage of women who successfully move into permanent or transitional housing. On a broader level, Sacred Heart House of Denver considers itself successful when it is able to present even the opportunity for homeless women in Denver to stabilize their lives, since a number of them find housing in the future with resources and referrals gained during their residency at the shelter. Last year this opportunity was presented to 204 homeless women and children. The number of former residents Sacred Heart House of Denver counts in its Follow-Up Program is an indicator of that Program’s success: These people are living independently with the support of our follow-up services. There are over 800 participants in the Follow-Up Program. Women in our Transitional Housing will develop employment and living skills to provide healthy, stable futures for their children.

Case files are kept and statistics are compiled and reported semi-annually by the executive director, using a results oriented management model and narrative, in accordance with grant requirements for funding received through Denver Department of Human Services. Statistics and program activities are also reported at the end of each fiscal year in the Colorado Common Grant Report Format by the executive director, which is disseminated to current and prospective funders and any interested parties. Residents of Sacred Heart House of Denver evaluate program services during exit interviews, and bi-annually, by Follow-Up participants in an evaluation form sent with the monthly newsletter. Financial statements are prepared each month by the assistant director, for review by the Board of Directors, and the accounting firm of Heider, Tanner and Dirks, Inc. audits them annually.

In October 2003, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper appointed members to the Denver Commission to End Homelessness with a mandate to create a plan to end homelessness in ten years. The Commission focused on eight core goals, realizing that “affordable housing and services to help people return to full participation in the community are fundamental.” Sacred Heart House of Denver has worked toward these goals by providing emergency shelter beds, supportive services promoting long-term stability and improved functioning and transitional housing opportunities, as presented in the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, now Denver’s Road Home, even before the Plan was conceived and implemented. To increase its effectiveness in the service provider community and help Denver achieve its goals, Sacred Heart House of Denver is an active participant in the Colorado Homeless Management Information Systems.

The needs of homeless women and children change as their situations and the economic conditions in Denver change: It is the goal of Sacred Heart House of Denver to respond appropriately and effectively to meet these needs through its In-House Stabilization, Follow-Up and Transitional Housing Programs.