Mary Stegner, executive director of Partners in Housing, leads a local nonprofit dedicated to combatting the growing number of families experiencing homelessness in Colorado Springs.
“They’re different than the folks that you imagine when you imagine homelessness,” Stegner said. “There are moms with kids living in their cars, there are moms whose kids are at different friends’ homes ... there are moms who are couch surfing in a relative’s basement.”
As a homelessness survivor and a single mom, Sarah described her situation.
“I didn’t feel that I was homeless. In my head, homeless meant going from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, you’re living on the streets, you might be panhandling — that was my brain’s picture of homelessness,” she said. “Having joined the Partners in Housing program, I realize that’s not all that homelessness is. It’s so much more than that. I was homeless with my children.”
Stephanie said those she met in the PIH program were just like her.
“They’re not there because they don’t want to work,” she said. “They want to be viable members of society. But when you’re homeless, you can’t get a job because you need an address to apply for work.”
The issue is exacerbated for the homeless who are trying to find a place to rent, but have poor credit or evictions in their history. PIH can step in to provide a housing unit for a family, however, there are responsibilities families must commit to.
“The first thing we do is sit down and write out goals with them,“ Stegner said. “A caseworker will then help the client to reach those goals with services from Partners in Housing, which includes things like life skills classes and budget counseling.”
Kerri is a former client and now serves on the PIH board of directors.
“The program is about empowering you and giving you hope,” she said. “They gave me the foundation I needed to stand on my own two feet.”
Sharon, also a former client and current board member, said PIH gave her the skills and accountability she needed to build a better future. Stegner said this accountability is tangible, but it is also emotional.
“When someone has been beaten down, been through chaos, it means a lot to them that someone believes in them enough to enforce these guidelines they’ve set up for themselves and meet the goals they’ve set for their families,” Stegner said.
The need for transitional housing and support services for homeless families in Colorado Springs is greater than the resources available. PIH is unique in the transitional housing units that they provide and the program that they have developed and delivered for 25 years.
“Our offering continues to improve,” Stegner said. “Last year we had an almost 90-percent success rate — 90 percent of our families moved on to permanent housing, they’re working, their kids are in school. These families are contributing back to Colorado Springs.”