Married, middle aged, employed and living in a three-bedroom house, Shelly and Daryl Gottier never imagined they’d end up homeless — much less living along Monument Creek in a tent during winter.
But that’s what happened.
After a death in the family and losing their jobs in the midst of the economic downturn, they were evicted from their home in November of last year and sought shelter by the creek. Two months later Shelly had a hysterectomy and spent her recovery time in the tent.
“That was tough,” She said. “I’ve never camped in my life, not even as a Girl Scout.”
The couple would still be living there if it weren’t for the efforts of Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, which coordinates homeless services, and Teresa McLaughlin, director of the organization’s Homeless Outreach Program, who helped get the couple back on their feet.
Charitable work like that done by the region’s nonprofit organizations has not gone unnoticed, thanks to El Pomar Foundation.
It recognized Holmes and Homeward Pikes Peak, along with The Myron Stratton Consortium, earlier this week during the organization’s annual Awards for Excellence ceremony.
Homeward’s mission is to coordinate services for the homeless in the region. Holmes has been executive director since March 2003.
The nonprofit’s budget jumped from $250,000 to about $1 million this year, when the agency received a grant from El Pomar and smaller grants from the city and faith-based groups to launch its Homeless Outreach Program.
Last winter, 610 homeless people were evicted from their makeshift campgrounds along the city’s creeks.
All the homeless campers, or “tenters,” as they call themselves, were offered assistance, and 71 percent accepted it. The program is still helping most of them as they transition to more permanent housing. For now, many of them are staying at the Aztec Motel on east Platte Avenue. All told, the agency has helped about 500 people this year.
“If you can give a person hope, that is the best gift ever,” Holmes added. “If you have an opportunity to help somebody and you don’t take that opportunity, it’s a terrible loss for both people.”
These days, hope has returned to Shelly and Daryl’s lives. While they wait to receive Social Security benefits and medication, they have a warm, dry place to sleep, food to eat. They also help McLaughlin with the day-to-day management of the Aztec, where more than 80 people live.
Once their financial situation is stabilized, Shelly wants to follow in McLaughlin’s footsteps, helping those less fortunate than her.
“Before we got out of a house and into a tent, I would have looked down on homeless people,” Shelly said. “Now, I’d like to do the same thing Teresa’s doing. It’s a lot of work, but it would be worth it.”
The Myron Stratton Home was founded in 1913 to house low-income elderly. When the consortium was founded in 2005, it expanded its outreach to poor, single mothers.
The consortium includes TESSA, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, Early Connections Learning Centers, Partners in Housing, and the Myron Stratton Home.
All of these organizations are housed on one campus, which enables clients to have their medical, mental health, housing and childcare needs all met in one location, said Mark Turk, who has been executive director of Myron Stratton Home since 1988.
“It really gets to the crux of the whole thing — being able to help people like Shasha,” Turk said.
Shasha Clark is the 27-year-old single mother of two young children. They had been living in a shelter in Indianapolis, before moving to Colorado earlier this year.
She spent her childhood being shuffled from one foster or group home to another.
“All my life, I’ve never had parents (to help her). I’ve been kicked out of house and run from pillar to post with my kids,” Clark said.
Now she has a safe, warm place to call home, and her 2-year-old son, Kamarie, and 8-month-old daughter, Myzetta, play happily across the way at Early Connections, while she works as an aide at Myron Stratton.
Clark’s eyes sparkle as she talks about working with the residents.
“I don’t call them ‘old people,’ I call them ‘young people.’ They have a smile on their face. I like to make them feel loved and appreciated,” she said.
Without the consortium, a place to live, medical care, and now a job, Clark has no illusions about where she’d be.
“My kids would have been taken away from me. I’d be living on the streets,” Clark said.
Instead, in January, she’ll begin classes to become a certified nurse assistant.