Shanan Collins, left, talks with Fetha Ballard at the Lodge shelter at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Boulder on Thursday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Shanan Collins, left, talks with Fetha Ballard at the Lodge shelter at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Boulder on Thursday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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For months, Fetha and Hannah Ballard spent the bulk of their day chasing warmth or shade, depending on the weather forecast.

But that all changed earlier this month when the The Lodge, the only Boulder County shelter catered to people who identify as women, transgender or nonbinary, opened for 24/7 services. Fetha and Hannah, a mother-daughter duo, have been living at The Lodge for about eight months.

Fetha Ballard wipes down a desk while doing chores at The Lodge shelter at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Boulder. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

“There’s definitely a need for this in the community,” Fetha said. “There needs to be more than this.”

The Lodge, which serves about 20 clients at a time, offers full day and night sheltering through a reserved bed program. It also has a navigator on staff to assist shelter residents with developing and executing a personal plan to achieve housing or other permanent outcomes, including programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, employment and education. This could include referrals to partners across the area.

The Lodge is the second shelter in the Mother House network, which has been serving unhoused families in Boulder County since 1982 and has a residential maternity shelter in downtown Boulder.

Since The Lodge opened in September 2020, expansion has always been a part of the plan, according to executive director Lisa Sweeney-Miran and program director Shanan Collins. It just took time to find a place to house the shelter and the money to fund it.

A sign posted to the door of a bunk room reads “Be nice or leave” at The Lodge shelter at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Boulder. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

In terms of funding, The Lodge operates with a $500,000 grant provided through the state Department of Local Affairs’ emergency solutions grants program and through community donations. However, the funding is not guaranteed because the grant isn’t automatically renewed.

The shelter is currently housed at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church on Baseline Road in Boulder.

“The guests who are living here … are especially vulnerable in traditional shelters, and we take seriously the call to protect those who are vulnerable,” the Rev. Jacqueline Decker Vanderpol of St. Andrew’s stated in a news release about the expansion.

In the area of the church set up for the shelter, there are bathrooms, a communal space with a kitchen and a living area and a room for sleeping with bunk beds where people can store their belongings. As time goes on, the shelter will begin offering classes in yoga, gardening, resume building and more, Collins noted.

Hiring people with lived experience in homelessness, addiction, domestic violence and/or those who identify as transgender is one of the shelter’s central values. In Sweeney-Miran’s view, it’s the best way to help a person move out of homelessness, stay sober in recovery or come to terms with being a survivor of domestic violence.

“It’s a direct and emotional connection … interacting with someone who’s already been there and who’s found a way out and wants to help you to do the same,” she said.

There is a communal feel at the shelter, due, at least, in part to the small space.

“This feels more like home, more normal. I think it being smaller too has a big thing to do with that,” Fetha said.

It’s a balancing act for shelter staff, though, because there is limited space but no limit on the amount of time residents can stay.

At any given time, some percentage of the beds at The Lodge will be devoted to people staying long term, because it’s “the only place where they can go, where they feel safe, where they feel welcome,” Sweeney-Miran said.

But there are medium- and short-term residents as well.

“We balance it by doing our best to engage folks who are able to move on as quickly and efficiently as possible and find spaces for them to go,” Sweeney-Miran said.

Take Helen McCallum, a resident at The Lodge for about a year who said she’s poised to move into an apartment in Longmont in the near future. As someone with health issues, it’s been helpful for McCallum to stay in one place.

“I just got out of the hospital,” she said. “It was nice for a couple days where I could just lay in bed and get back on my feet, you know?”

The Lodge’s Assistant Manager Bruce Johnson, who is homeless, attends the annual memorial honoring current and former unhoused Boulder County residents who have died. Each year, the list includes more names he recognizes.

For Johnson, this is what The Lodge’s work is all about.

“We’re not here to change people’s lives. We’re here to save people’s lives,” he said.