In a time of upheaval, Dave Rout, executive director of Homeward Alliance, is inspired by local and county leaders who have stepped up to respond. “Because we were so woefully unprepared (for a pandemic) as a nation, we are at the mercy of our community’s willingness to help,” he said. He is aware that not all communities have acted so swiftly and so well.
Homeward Alliance, housed in the Murphy Center for Hope at 242 Conifer Street in Fort Collins, evolved from Homeless Gear, a non-profit founded by Ken John in 2008 at the time of his retirement from the business world. His goal was to outfit the homeless population in Fort Collins with survival gear appropriate for Colorado’s harsh winters.
Homeless Gear expanded over time, growing to provide programs designed to empower individuals and families to escape homelessness and move forward in their lives. From a small operation with a single mission and a budget of $40,000, the non-profit now sponsors 11 different programs and initiatives and has a budget of two million dollars. Their stated mission is to make homelessness “rare, short-lived and non-recurring” in the community.
The name change occurred in 2018 in celebration of the organization’s tenth anniversary. Today Homeward Alliance operates the Murphy Center for Hope where 20 agencies are based that offer as many as 40 different services. “The idea was to create a place where people can get it all,” Rout said.
Rout arrived at Homeward Alliance through the back door. A journalism major and native of New Jersey, he was working in his field in Fort Collins and wanted to get involved in the community. He began volunteering and became so involved that he enrolled in Colorado State University where he earned a degree in social work. He volunteered for Street Outreach in 2011, then served an internship and later took over management of Hand Up, an employment program, now part of Homeward Alliance. He has been executive director of Homeward Alliance for the last eight years.
Programs available at the Murphy Center range from basic survival needs to job programs, re-entry assistance for people as they return to society after incarceration, and a Dedicated Navigator program to help people make an application for benefits available to them. In 2019 participants received nearly a million dollars in benefits.
The list of programs and initiatives is long and varied, ranging from bike repair and bus passes to eyeglass vouchers, a food pantry, lockers, a mobile laundry service, showers, a notary, pet food, vaccinations and services for veterans, all geared toward establishing and maintaining permanent housing.
In 2019 the One Village One Family initiative helped 19 families with 40 children escape homelessness. Street Outreach engaged more than 500 people n the streets, more than a million dollars’ worth of life-sustaining supplies were distributed, 70 percent of participants were helped to obtain employment, and 550 bike repairs were done free of charge.
In 2017 Homeward Alliance and Homeward 2020 launched the Housing First Initiative and since then 140 people, homeless for six months or longer have been housed. More than 90 percent of them remained housed after six months.
Because of the COVID-19 scare, Murphy Center, which routinely serves 200 people a day, is closed for the duration. Working with Catholic Charities and Fort Collins Rescue Mission, Homeward Alliance has been providing overnight housing at Northside Aztlan Community Center. A day center is also open at the location. Keeping people separated according to the status of their health has created a challenge at the facility.
“The pandemic has upended everything we do, causing closures and major adjustments. Ninety percent of our volunteers, most of them older people, are temporarily gone,” Rout said. “We’re currently in a hiring frenzy.” Rout is encouraged by some younger people who have stepped up to volunteer their services and encourages anyone willing to help to contact email@example.com. Additional information about services under the auspices of Homeward Alliance can be found at their website – homewardalliance.org