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Deanna Tupper, works at Community Table in Boulder in 2017 as part of the Bridge House Ready to Work program.
Deanna Tupper, works at Community Table in Boulder in 2017 as part of the Bridge House Ready to Work program.

By Isabel McDevitt

If there was ever a time when people of all walks of life understood the importance of having a stable place to live, it is now. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home order has made it clear that having a home is a necessity for health, safety and sanity.

With this renewed appreciation, let’s also remind ourselves of the importance of providing accessible, efficient and effective homeless services for those without homes.

In the past few years Homeless Solutions for Boulder County has directed funding to housing development and vouchers for the most chronically homeless and medically compromised on our streets. This is an important effort.

However, we cannot ignore those who have unmet basic needs today. Many need shelter, meals and support now. Many will not qualify for housing vouchers. yet they are nevertheless vulnerable on our streets. We need to balance housing goals and emergency services.

Bridge House has provided basic needs services since the mid-1990s. Our agency name, programs and locations have had many forms. Our commitment and culture have not. Thanks to our passionate front line staff and volunteers we have served tens of thousands of people out of parking lots, faith dining rooms and basements and our infamous, beloved Carriage House. We have been fierce in our belief in the humanity and potential of those we serve.

In recent years, Bridge House has created a niche in chronic homelessness prevention by developing creative housing and service solutions. Such innovation is fundamental to our efforts to provide a robust homeless service and housing continuum for the more than 75% of people on the street who will not qualify for the housing and voucher programs that have become the focus of our system.

In July 2017, Bridge House launched the Path to Home navigation program as a pilot to demonstrate the benefits of short-term, 24/7 shelter coupled with intensive, housing-centric case management  for the clients we serve and the community at large.

Since inception we have placed 846 people in housing alternatives with an average length of stay in shelter of 20 days. We have proven that a welcoming, caring environment with intensive focus on finding nonshelter solutions can yield exemplary outcomes.

As of Sunday, per the work plan of HSBC, our lease at 2691 30th St. will expire. The building has been slated for affordable housing. The sheltering and case management services Bridge House has offered at this site will end. Shelter capacity for single adults in Boulder will be the 160 beds at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.

Bridge House’s Ready to Work housing and employment program, Community Table Kitchen social enterprise, and permanent housing partnerships will continue to thrive. Our Community Table Dinner program will offer a nightly, welcoming meal for those in need Monday through Friday as we have for more than 23 years.

Bridge House leadership has consistently supported consolidating shelter services and directing resources to housing. We have also been clear that we must maintain accessible, efficient and effective basic needs services.

We want to share what has worked during the PTH pilot and see these key practices be continued by HSBC.

Accessibility: As we had at PTH, clients need access to a physical home-base — day and night — to allow for them to focus on their housing plans. If clients have to worry about where to leave their belongings during business hours or where they can access the internet or other tools for a housing or job search, how can we expect them to execute on their plan? We must maximize access to resources of all kinds — facilities and personnel.

Efficiency: For reduced bed capacity to efficiently serve the community, we need to maintain outcomes by helping people create navigation and housing plans quickly. We learned that the minute a person completes coordinated entry they need to engage in an actionable plan.

Effectiveness: We must prioritize effective case management for our clients and believe in their potential. Case management that is experienced, creative and trauma-informed is fundamental to helping people navigate to housing and other long-term outcomes. At PTH, our team rarely worked with a client who had a clear-cut path to housing. It takes ingenuity and perseverance from a case manager to effectively help clients leave shelter behind.

As we move into a new phase of homeless services in Boulder, Bridge House remains committed to our programs, our partners and, most importantly, to the men and women experiencing homelessness in our community.

Isabel McDevitt is the chief executive officer of the Bridge House in Boulder.