For decades, schools have known kids don’t learn well if they’re hungry or homeless. It’s not any different for older students, and the Durango Adult Education Center has added housing to the ways it can help adult learners turn their lives around.
Thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Daniels Fund and an assist from Housing Solutions of the Southwest, the center has rented an apartment for up to four students at a time. It’s not free – each student pays rent based upon their earnings – but the rent is scaled to allow them to save for first and last month rent to move into stable housing when they complete their studies.
“I once had a student whose mother had kicked him out of the house at night with nothing,” said Josh Kelso, career adviser at the education center. “He ended up finding a spot of dirt under a tree where he slept, but it rained that night, and he came to school sopping wet. I wished then I had something I could offer for someone in that position.”
A stable foundationThe Daniels Fund is putting emphasis in its giving to the concept of rapid rehousing, which has proved to be a successful model in helping homeless people resolve not only housing, but other problems in their lives, said Teresa Malone, executive director of the DAEC.
“It’s nothing fancy, we call it dorm-style housing,” she said about the DAEC’s new apartment. “It was built for single moms, so one resident has to go through another’s room to get to the bathroom, for example. In fact, when we applied for the grant, we thought we would be housing single mothers, because we have a number of those.”
The apartment was furnished with donations from DAEC staff and supporters in the community.
A quiet and safe placeJackie Safari, 22, needed a quiet place to study as she works to complete her GED diploma at the center. The daughter of Chef Arnold “Safari” Ngumbao, the executive chef at Strater Catering and Events, she and her entire family came to Durango from Kenya in 2014 because of terrorist dangers there. The oldest of five children, Jackie Safari completed high school in Kenya, but her diploma was not accepted here.
“I needed to focus on my studies, and then I see my dream coming true,” said Safari, who plans to become a dental hygienist. “It’s hard for me to be on my own, but I need to rest a little, and the little kids always wanted me to play.”
Safari is working two jobs along with going to classes at the Durango Adult Education Center. She works from 4:30 to 11 a.m. at McDonald’s, and nights at Albertsons, although she will be leaving Albertsons after Christmas to have more time for her studies.
Her new housing, which she just moved into last week, is within walking distance of the center and her jobs, but she is also taking driving lessons through the Southwest Colorado Workforce Center, because the dental hygienist studies will take place at San Juan College in Farmington.
“Having the apartment within walking distance of the center,” Malone said about all the students, “means we don’t have to deal with the transportation barrier for them right now.”
For Safari’s new roommate Marianna Gutierrez, 21, the center offers a chance to learn English. The owner of a business in Venezuela, she intends to return home after completing the English as a Second Language course.
Gutierrez had been living near Turtle Lake and was bicycling into town twice a day to attend classes.
“That road (County Road 204) is just too dangerous for her to be riding on in the winter, particularly because it gets dark so early,” Malone said.
Giving students a BOOSTThe Durango Adult Education Center is working with about 130 students right now, about 65 each in the GED and English as a Second Language programs. Many of them struggle with housing or food insecurity, transportation, domestic violence or other issues that can be barriers to learning.
In September 2015, the center created a program called BOOST, which supports students with wide-ranging services, including bringing in a hot meal daily from Manna Soup Kitchen, teaching job and résumé skills, budgeting, and connecting students with resources in the community.
As part of the program, Kelso checks in with many students on a weekly basis.
“Some of the students’ housing changes a lot,” he said. “A student who is now homeless will say he’s moving in with his aunt. A month later, the situation changes, and they’re back in an unstable situation. If they need a place to live right now, that can be hard to get.”
The apartment will make his job much easier, Kelso said.
“Now, if someone comes in sopping wet,” he said, “I can say we’ve got a place for them.”