Jewish Family Service battles homelessness
After finally finding affordable housing in the Denver metro area following a weekslong search, Christina Vasquez, a single mother of two teen boys, suddenly found herself without a job and facing eviction from her Aurora home.
Staring down the prospect of homelessness, she called a social services hotline in June and was connected to Jewish Family Service of Colorado’s family safety net program. Suddenly, it was like a switch had flipped.
Vasquez was able to keep the condominium her family was living in and had landed a job in which she has quickly risen, receiving three promotions in two months. Getting back on her feet was all thanks to Jewish Family Service.
“They actually helped every step of the way,” she said. “They made sure every step was complete.”
JFS chapter in Denver helps nearly 25,000 people like Vasquez in the Denver area each year, providing everything from emergency rent relief, to counseling, to access to a food pantry and jobgetting help. The organization is one of dozens receiving funds from The Denver Post’s Season to Share campaign this year, money which will be used at JFS to supplement efforts to keep families out of homelessness.
Aid doesn’t go just to Jewish families as the charity’s name might suggest, but spans people from all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, including refugees.
“One of the unique qualities of JFS is that we have a really strong unique donor base that gives us flexible dollars so that we can really target our services where the client needs help,” said Shelly Hines, director of JFS’s family safety net program. “A lot of grants and government funding is very, very specific and restricted. We are able to use private funding and look at the (client) and find out what their need is.”
Hines said that means paying for someone’s emergency needs, like a car repair to get someone back to work or a medical debt to prevent someone’s check from being garnished. That oneon-one, hyper-specific care is what sets JFS apart.
“It’s those extra things that I think make a big impact on people’s lives that aren’t as easy to find funding for,” she said. “It’s all about relationship building.”
With rents in the Denver metro so high, JFS has seen an influx of clients — many of them seniors — in need of money to pay their skyrocketing rents. The organization has served everyone from engineers who are out of work to long-time managers suddenly without a job and single parents.
“A lot of them, they don’t have enough income to have a savings account to have something kind of as backup if a crisis were to happen,” said Dicia Kemp, JFS’s family safety net care management program coordinator. “Our clients, either because of generational poverty or just because of their current situation, they never learned how to save or they’re not capable of saving.”
Kemp added: “They’re just surviving.”
Abas Mohammed looks over the selections at the food pantry at Jewish Family Services. The nonprofit provides assistance to individuals and families that are in danger of becoming homeless. Seth McConnell, The Denver Post