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New strategy for homeless shelters emerges during pandemic

The Roadway Inn off of Federal Blvd will continue as a shelter for women, children and transgender people.

DENVER, Colorado — During the pandemic, the city of Denver searched to find COVID-conscious arrangements for the homeless population seeking shelter. 

Many shelters have accommodations that put people in the same room. During the pandemic, those shelters became problematic as people tried to social distance from one another. 

As a result, the city came up with multiple arrangements for non-congregate housing, meaning that each person had their own space and their own room. The shelter set up at the Roadway Inn off of Federal Blvd took on this set up when it began in August 2020. 

When it started, Catholic Charities ran it in conjunction with the Gathering Space. Catholic Charities is stepping down from operations, and the Salvation Army has plans to take it over, if approved by the Denver City Council. Previously, the Salvation Army had been providing food service to the residents. 

"This is really the first at least in my mind," said Kristen Baluyot, Denver Metro Social Services director. "This is the first official non-congregate shelter that is a permanent non-congregate shelter, whereas the other ones that were set up were all just in response to COVID and there is no promise as far as their longevity goes. So that's a unique thing." 

The shelter at the Roadway Inn is designed to be a safe space for women, children and those who identify as transgender or non-conforming. 

"It creates a really safe environment for women, as well as for a very special population that has a hard time being safe in a more congregate shelter," said Baluyot. 

Salvation Army hopes to keep the facility running with approval of roughly $2.7 million to keep operations going through the end of the year. The contract would then be approved annually through the Denver City Council. 

Baluyot called the price tag 'fair' because it includes the total operational costs. She said the opportunity to housing like this is exciting. 

"It can be very destabilizing for people, especially those who have experienced a lot of trauma in their lives and might have some mental health issues, even just sleeping next to a lot of people is really hard." 

The Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee approved the agreement. The next step is for it to be voted on in full council. 

"This is something that has come out of COVID in our unique response in our community, and it's just thrilling to see this method as becoming one of our types of tools that we can use for helping those who are experiencing homelessness," said Baluyot. 

If this passes, the Salvation Army would subcontract the Gathering Place to continue the work its doing inside the facility. 

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