In January, while siblings J.J. and Melody, ages 7 and 3, giggled and played in the white dusty snow that regularly covers Colorado, their father, Joseph, feared for their safety. His family was living out of a tent, homeless. A traumatic brain injury from an earlier Army deployment left Joseph struggling to find work upon his return home. His wife, a Navy veteran, left the service with post traumatic stress and facing challenges of her own as well. A search for permanent housing was anything but easy for the young family, who hit their lowest point this past winter. "When it was too cold for the tent, we'd stay in our truck with the heaters on, and that just wasn't good for the kids," Joseph said.
Upon learning of the family's plight, Volunteers of America Colorado Branch immediately provided them a safe, warm room at the Volunteers of America Family Motel in Denver. "Volunteers of America really saved us," Joseph said.
The Family Motel houses up to 430 homeless families each month. The program began in the early 1990s when Denver County approached Volunteers of America seeking a collaboration. Today, 30 rooms on the property are reserved for homeless Denver County residents, and 10 rooms are designated respite rooms, where homeless individuals suffering a medical condition can recover.
Donna Rauen, the project manager at the Family Motel, sees the crucial need the program fills in the community. "We are almost always full," she said. "Every month we are at an 89 to 99 percent capacity rate." And the work is not without heartbreak. A low-barrier program, the motel primarily serves families with the highest number of challenges. For Rauen, this means sometimes having to refuse people in need. "It's very hard on your soul to discharge to the street," she said.
For Joseph and his family their stay has been the stepping stone they needed to get back on their feet. Soon, they will move into an apartment of their own. Joseph sees Volunteers of America as a blessing. "I cannot extoll how good they have been to my family."