It can be tough to live and work in La Plata County. Housing costs are high. Many residents work more than one minimum-wage job. Human services organizations work hard to make sure no one goes to bed hungry, and everyone has a safe place to sleep.
Needs have grown significantly since the recession began, as evidenced by the number of meals Manna Soup Kitchen is serving annually. The number has almost doubled since 2007, up to almost 70,000 in 2013.
No area is more complex or more difficult to understand than the housing-assistance segment of the nonprofit sector.
“It took five executive directors four hours in a room trying to describe housing help here,” said Sarada Leavenworth, division director of Volunteers of America, which operates the Durango Community Shelter, Southwest Safehouse and two veterans housing programs.
She was joking, of course. What they were really working on was a way to describe the continuum of needs and to make sure all are addressed.
“At the very basic level, everyone needs a safe place to sleep for the night, and at the other end of the spectrum, both renters and homeowners face challenges that threaten the stability of their housing situation,” said Elizabeth Salkind, executive director of Housing Solutions for the Southwest. “No one housing organization has the expertise or capacity to address all housing needs.”
It often takes more than one organization to help someone navigate to a stable housing situation.
Salkind told stories of a veteran and his son progressing from a need for emergency housing to stable housing with the help of the Veterans Administration, Volunteers of America and Housing Solutions.
Another man, who suffered severe injuries in a car accident, is dealing with the challenges of being quadriplegic. His family’s home out in the county was not handicapped-accessible, and he was marooned without transportation. Several agencies, including the Southwest Center for Independence and San Juan Basin Health, collaborated to secure him a subsidy in a local complex where he can receive the services he needs to live well.
The main players in the housing arena are:
Volunteers of America offers emergency and short-term housing, including advocacy, job search support and life skills, for individuals and families at the Durango Community Shelter; a safe harbor at the Southwest Safehouse for women and children fleeing abusive situations; and emergency and transitional housing for veterans struggling with homelessness.
Housing Solutions for the Southwest works on housing from a variety of angles, including counseling, emergency homeless prevention, transitional housing, rental assistance, home rehabilitation for homeowners, homebuyer education and weatherization to make heating bills more affordable.
Regional Housing Alliance has both a hands-on and policy approach to housing, working with local governments to require residential developments to include a certain number of homes at discount prices or offer other resources; acquiring land through public-private partnerships to build housing for low- and moderate-income families; preparing new homeowners with education and mortgage assistance; and working on policy development, educating the public and encouraging others to create opportunities for more affordable housing.
Habitat for Humanity partners with families to build decent, affordable homes.
The Community Development Corporation spearheaded the development of a subdivision in Bayfield to be used for home ownership for low- to moderate-income wage earners. It is selling the final 14 lots to Habitat for Humanity.
Southwest Center for Independence helps people with disabilities establish independent living.
Community Connections provides services to adults and children with developmental disabilities, including running Holly House, a residential facility for some of its program’s participants.
Housing is not the only area that falls in the human services category, nor is it only organizations that feed the disenfranchised, such as Manna and the Durango Food Bank. La Plata Family Centers Coalition supports families; Alternative Horizons and the Sexual Assault Services Organization work with the victims of violence and to prevent further violence; Los Compañeros helps immigrants become part of the community; Project Merry Christmas makes sure everyone has a holiday; and the La Plata Electric Association Round Up Foundation provides monetary support in almost every category.
One major nonprofit that flies under many people’s radar is the Southern Ute Community Action Program, one of the largest nonprofits in La Plata County, with annual revenues of more than $6.8 million. SUCAP receives much of its funding from governmental grants and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, either administering grants awarded to the tribe or using funds the tribe donates directly.
“We have six main divisions with over 100 different grants and contracts,” SUCAP Executive Director Eileen Wasserbach said. “Road Runner, Ignacio Senior Center, Head Start, Youth Services, Peaceful Spirit (supporting individuals with issues related to drug and alcohol abuse) and The Training Advantage (associated with Colorado Department of Labor and Employment). We serve 17 counties with The Training Advantage.”
Located in a small community in the southeast corner of the county, SUCAP’s reach is region-wide.