Six years ago, single mother Kat Lilley unexpectedly found herself in a Colorado Springs homeless shelter, along with her six children.
“... I had made the choice to ask for help, the choice to let ‘them’ know that my family had nowhere to go, regardless of consequence. I had decided that if my children, my reason for breathing, were taken from me, they were better off without me; I couldn’t provide for their basic needs. I cried, ashamed to be sleeping in a church, dependent on others for food, safety, and shelter...,” Lilley wrote on the Family Promise website.
She had, in the blink of an eye, lost her home and found herself sleeping in the family van with her children. She needed help.
The most recent Colorado Statewide Homeless Person Count estimated the number of homeless people in the state to be upwards of 16,000 on any given day. The same point-in-time count identified approximately 939 homeless people in El Paso County; 148 of those between the ages of 13 and 25.
Sharing her story helped to identify Lilley and her family as more than a statistic. We see homelessness every day in Colorado Springs, but not always the youngsters affected by it. Can you imagine trying to get six children ready for school in a minivan? Or that any of those kids would be equipped to succeed?
Lilley reached out to the 2-1-1 Pikes Peak United Way hotline and was put in touch with local nonprofit Family Promise in her family’s time of need.
Aug. 3 will mark six years from the day that Lilley and her children entered a Family Promise shelter. When she reflects on that night, she said, she’s reminded of the importance of compassion, kindness, and truly seeing each person who reaches out with “Can you help? We don’t have anywhere to go.”
She bravely shared her family’s inspirational story with hundreds at the United Way luncheon at The Broadmoor on June 12. Lilley, the event’s keynote speaker, served as a Family Promise volunteer in various roles beginning in 2014, and sat on the Family Promise Finance Committee in until she joined the affiliate’s staff in March 2015. Today she is executive director of Family Promise.
“Thank you for helping my family rebuild,” Lilley said at the luncheon.
Pikes Peak United Way offers help by way of referrals for food, housing, utilities, legal aid, substance abuse and more through the Colorado 2-1-1 mobile app, hotline (simply dial 211, 719-955-0742 or toll free 1-866-488-9742) or website, ppunitedway.org. The bilingual 2-1-1 program offers serves a total of 12 southern Colorado counties, and helped more than 36,000 people in crisis last year.
Family Promise is just one agency that provides assistance for homeless families in the Pikes Peak region. Another nonprofit, Partners in Housing, recently held a fundraiser for its programs that target homeless families.
At that event, held July 25 at the Club at Flying Horse, Keri Ellen White shared her family’s story of homelessness. White found Partners in Housing while she was going through an ugly divorce and found herself and her two children homeless. After the three spent time couch-surfing in the homes of generous friends, she realized she, like Lilley, needed help beyond her friend circle. She applied to Partners in Housing to receive services including transitional housing and financial counseling.
“I was incredibly blessed by this program so I will continue to give back by promoting the program, serving on the board, and contributing financially,” said White, now a “graduated” partner.
The “partners” in Partners in Housing are families in crisis, explained Mary Stenger, executive director. All the families served have children, and 90% are headed by single mothers. In 75% of the cases domestic violence is a factor.
The help that Lilley and White received from these agencies transformed their lives and those of their young children.
Their stories reminded me that “There but for the grace of God go I,” as the saying goes. We are all one decision away from a different life, good or bad. Thankfully help is available in our region with amazing programs like these They will continue to provide assistance to the devastating number of people in need on our streets, but only if we support these nonprofits.
Michelle Karas has called the Pikes Peak region home for four years. She became editor of Pikes Peak Newspapers in June 2019. Contact Michelle with letters to the editor, guest columns or story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.