When a Shelter Becomes a Home

Durango Community Shelter Offers Hope to Homeless Families in Need

“There are just some circumstances you never see yourself in.”

Getting evicted unexpectedly from your home; sleeping in a compact Subaru with your husband and 11-year-old child; spending your last $8 on gas; forgetting what a hot meal taste like…

Nekeia and James Munoz, and their daughter Aralynn, reflect on those challenging experiences with heavy hearts – a period that will forever be etched in their memories.

Today they are staying at Volunteers of America’s Durango Community Shelter, but prior to being homeless the family shared a happy, comfortable life. James is a U.S. Navy veteran with a degree in Electronics Engineering; Nekeia has a degree in Social Work. However, like many other families and individuals living in Colorado, they existed just one unfortunate circumstance beyond the realm of homelessness.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Colorado is home to the third largest number of homeless families in the nation – 3,250. The state also has “nationally significant levels” of homelessness in rural areas, including Durango, the mountainous, southwestern city where the Munoz family resides.

Durango is a popular travel destination for hikers, skiers, hunters, and other tourists interested in outdoor adventure. However, while the tourism industry soars, it can be difficult for locals to secure affordable housing, food, and other necessities. It is an economic dynamic that can be found in many mountain towns throughout Colorado and beyond.

“There are limited opportunities available in Durango,” Nekeia affirms. “And the cost of living is high.”

Fortunately, after being evicted, the Munoz family was able to find refuge and stability in Volunteers of America Colorado’s Durango Community Shelter where they have lived for almost one year.

The Shelter has been an indispensable part of the Durango community since 1991. It is the only 24/7/365 shelter in Southwest Colorado and the singular option for families and individuals that need help getting back on their feet and regaining self-sufficiency.

However, the Shelter is so much more than that. As, Nekeia and John lovingly declare, it is a home.

When Nekeia and her family first arrived at the shelter, she struggled with feelings of guilt and shame. “I wondered if people would think I was a bad mother because we’d lived in our vehicle for nearly a month and we were struggling financially.”

But those feelings soon dissolved – the Munoz family was welcomed by the Shelter staff with open arms into a place of healing that offered them a “sense of family” almost instantaneously. For the first time in months, Nekeia, James, and Aralynn did not fear what the next day might hold. They all breathed a sigh of relief.

It was in this breathe that they could begin to rebuild their lives.

Nekeia was able to secure a full-time job as a Front Office Coordinator at a local staffing agency with the support and encouragement of her new friends and staff at the Shelter. James continues to work towards finding a job as well and helps Aralynn with her schoolwork in the meantime. Most exciting of all, they are moving into a new apartment of their own at the beginning of April.

The Munoz family is beyond thrilled to finally be moving into a home of their own again, but already know they will miss the welcoming warmth of the Durango Community Shelter and its staff. They look forward to sharing their story with others outside the Shelter in hopes of generating understanding in those who have not struggled with homelessness and be a guiding light to others who have.

Nekeia shares, “If not for this shelter, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be the light, the inspiration, and the hope for the people that come through these doors. We are no different from one another – we are all connected.”

To find out more about the Durango Community Shelter and our other services in Durango, visit www.voacolorado.org/gethelp-southernco.