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Sheltered by compassion: Reviewing refuges for unhoused people in NoCo

The+Fort+Collins+Rescue+Mission+sign+stands+at+its+location+and+displays+its+mission+statement%2C+Changing+Lives+in+the+Name+of+Christ+March+18.+
Collegian | Annie Hessler
The Fort Collins Rescue Mission sign stands at its location and displays its mission statement, “Changing Lives in the Name of Christ” March 18.

Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the author’s larger project addressing additional organizations in Colorado. The entirety of this project can be viewed online at anniehessler.com.

Growing up, I was always aware of and engaged in the topic of homelessness. Over the years, however, I’ve noticed growing desensitization and misconceptions about unhoused people.

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Living in Colorado for nearly a decade has opened my eyes to the reality faced by unhoused communities in Denver and Fort Collins.

This deep-seated issue within our community inspired me to focus on the various organizations tirelessly working to address homelessness throughout Colorado.

While I understand that I could not possibly cover every deserving organization, I hope this feature showcases the efforts of the following groups and raises awareness about this societal issue, dismantling stigma and promoting both volunteerism and advocacy. 

Denver Rescue Mission

From the moment I was introduced to the Denver Rescue Mission, I was deeply moved by their profound impact. Eager to learn more, I reached out to Stephen Hinkel, the public relations manager, who arranged visits to each of their 9 locations.

“We’re trying to create a dignified environment where individuals feel respected and supported,” Hinkel said. 

The mission operates across diverse sites, each offering a unique set of services. In 2023, they provided over 1.1 million meals, facilitated almost 428,000 nights of shelter, assisted 11,000 individuals and helped 539 households secure stable housing.

During each visit, I had the privilege of meeting the dedicated individuals who drive these remarkable achievements, including those in Larimer County.

Fort Collins Rescue Mission

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  • An anonymous guest at the Fort Collins Rescue Mission proudly displays their ring, which connects them to their family’s tradition of jewelry-making and their passion for collecting jewelry March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • DeWayne Barton, a guest at the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, poses in his sleeping quarters, where he has resided for over a year and a half March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • The sleeping quarters at the Fort Collins Rescue Mission accommodate 160 men nightly, providing a safe shelter for men in Northern Colorado who are there for both short and long stays March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • Clothing and other donations at the Fort Collins Rescue Mission ensure residents have access to clean clothing items and necessities March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • The Fort Collins Rescue Mission sign stands at its location and displays its mission statement, “Changing Lives in the Name of Christ” March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
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Established in 2012, the Fort Collins Rescue Mission serves as a sanctuary for those facing homelessness and addiction in Northern Colorado.

Despite its modest size, the mission offers various emergency services and long-term programs, restoring dignity and promoting self-sufficiency.

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Rachel Pinkston, a Fort Collins Rescue Mission case manager, is one of many who drive the mission’s efforts forward with a commitment to supporting vulnerable populations.

Driven by faith and compassion, Pinkston said she believes strongly in community involvement and tailored approaches to address homelessness.

“My motto is, ‘Nobody can do it on their own,'” Pinkston said. 

She emphasized effective strategies like the housing-first model and temporary sheltering that meets individual needs.

“If we get someone into housing, … they have a stable place where they can meet all their other needs,” Pinkston said.

Highlighting the importance of challenging stereotypes and encouraging community participation, Pinkston urged greater engagement. 

“Getting involved with these organizations, … you’ll see it’s not always as portrayed,” Pinkston said. “Engaging with our guests has been rewarding.”

During the facility tour, I observed the mission’s daily operations: its kitchen, which serves two meals daily, and its sleeping quarters, which accommodate 160 men nightly.

I met residents like DeWayne Barton, who shared the positive impact the mission had on his life.

“I have been here for one and a half years,” said Barton, who is originally from Pueblo, Colorado.

In the outdoor courtyard, another man, who preferred to remain anonymous, expressed his gratitude for the support he had received at the mission.

“People like Rachel have been really helpful here,” the man said. “The mission has really improved since 2018 (and) 2019, and there’s a lot of help in Fort Collins.”

This man, wearing a turquoise pendant and a ruby ring, shared his family’s connection to jewelry-making and his passion for collecting jewelry. Although our conversation was brief, it provided a personal glimpse into his life that moved me deeply.

This conversation underscored the unique stories of individuals seeking refuge at the mission and highlighted how each person enduring hardships in these organizations is no different than others, each with their own compelling stories to share.

Harvest Farm

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  • The kitchen at Harvest Farms serves daily meals to guests throughout the year March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • The roadside sign for Harvest Farms marks the entrance to the facility March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • Highland cows at Harvest Farms relish the sun while munching on hay March 18. The livestock at the farms are taken care of by residents.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • The scenic view of Harvest Farms shows living quarters and the courtyard, where guests commute to their work and daily activities March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • The Harvest Farms agricultural barn serves as a workplace and an enclosure for farm animals March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • Showcasing a large cross strung with lights, the Harvest Farms agricultural barn serves as a workplace and an enclosure for animals March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • Tyler Zeller, program manager at Harvest Farms, is pictured in his office, where he addresses the behavioral needs of the community, focusing on both individual and group interactions March 18. “My daily duties vary, but a large part of my role involves focusing on the behavioral needs of the community, whether it’s individually or in a group,” Zeller said.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • The greenhouse at Harvest Farms promotes growth of vegetation that guests can tend to year-round, even in the winter March 18.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
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Located in Wellington, Colorado, Harvest Farm, a Denver Rescue Mission location, is a 100-acre sanctuary offering a New Life Program for up to 72 men seeking recovery from circumstances like addiction and homelessness.

The farm provides a tranquil environment with work therapy opportunities, ultimately aiming for self-sufficiency and a fresh start.

Upon arriving, I was struck by the farm’s beauty, from its greenhouses to the bustling farm life. Tyler Zeller, the program manager, shared insights into the farm’s operations and focus on behavioral needs. He said adapting to structured schedules is a challenge for many new residents.

“We all share the same mission statement: to change lives in the name of Christ, fostering self-reliance and societal reintegration,” Zeller said.

The program is designed to address root causes of homelessness, such as mental health and addiction, through person-first, personalized programs designed to help individuals find their identity and purpose.

“It allows guys to see what takes place when working hands-on,” Zeller said. “You plant a seed, you cultivate, you water, much like the Bible teaches us.”

Zeller also highlighted the inclusive nature of their faith-based organization.

“You don’t need to know anything about the person in front of you,” Zeller said. “Just show up and say, ‘I can be here for you.'”

Homeward Alliance

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  • Garden boxes outside the Murphy Center at Homeward Alliance welcome visitors with their vibrant blooms in the community gardens during spring and summer March 25.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • Located at Homeward Alliance, a harm reduction vending machine offers community members access to essential supplies, including naloxone, a life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose; test strips; menstruation kits; and hygiene kits March 25.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • Artwork at Homeward Alliance, created by guests who have benefited from their services, is both a remembrance and an inspiration to others March 25.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • Volunteer-created artwork and portraits at Homeward Alliance vividly depict guests and their dreams and aspirations March 25.

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
  • Pam Brewer, the development director at Homeward Alliance, is featured in a photograph taken at her workplace March 25. “I started at Homeward Alliance as a volunteer, and I have gotten to see the organization from the startup,” Brewer said. “At that time, there were only about seven employees.”

    Collegian | Annie Hessler
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Based in Fort Collins, Homeward Alliance is a cornerstone for individuals and families facing housing insecurity. They provide comprehensive support through programs aimed at stability and self-sufficiency, all grounded in social justice and compassion.

Upon my visit, I met with Development Director Pam Brewer, who started as a volunteer and has been with Homeward Alliance for seven years. 

Central to the organization’s strategy is its Housing First Initiative and collaborations with local agencies like the Murphy Center, aiming to make homelessness “rare, short-lived and nonrecurring,” Brewer said.

Throughout our conversation, Brewer emphasized the importance of inclusivity and diversity, which are critical to creating affirming spaces for all individuals.

“We hear a lot of people say they would rather sleep in tents and cars than go to organizations because they don’t feel their identity is affirmed,” Brewer said. “I don’t begrudge organizations for operating the way they want to operate, but I do think an alternative for folks who don’t feel welcomed in those spaces is needed.”

Brewer highlighted the misconception that empathy alone qualifies someone to fully understand or address the complexities of unhoused people.

“Just because you’re kindhearted doesn’t make you an expert at homelessness,” Brewer said.

Brewer stressed the importance of deeper understanding, education and informed approaches to tackle homelessness effectively.

Through volunteering, individuals can learn to see past stereotypes and listen deeply to people’s stories. Through this, they gain understanding, empathy and a willingness to listen and learn.

I’ve seen firsthand the transformative impact of community support and dedication. At each location, the commitment to providing vital assistance to those in need is palpable, and it’s driven by compassionate individuals in environments that foster inclusivity.

Witnessing these efforts has deepened my understanding of the role personal narratives play in addressing homelessness. Sharing these stories not only helps to dismantle stigma, but it also fosters deeper empathy within our community. Whether by volunteering or simply spreading awareness, every effort contributes to societal change, illustrating the power of community and the human spirit in overcoming adversity.

Reach Annie Hessler at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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