Winter Haven

Despite its renowned number of sunny days, Colorado is a cold place in the winter and Durango is by no means an exception. In January 2013, the average daily low temperature was 2 degrees in Durango, and December saw one solid week when the mercury never rose above freezing. For most families, that means a combination of bundling up, turning up the heat and settling in for cozy evenings at home.

Those who lack adequate shelter, however, face a different set of circumstances that quickly erase winter’s charm. The Winter Haven shelter will help ease that strain for Durango’s homeless families.

The project will provide overnight shelter, rotating between the First United Methodist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, for those who have no place to go on winter nights. Up to 20 people can find warmth, a meal and tutoring for children during the season’s coldest months. The collaboration is a critical one, born of a collective concern for the increasing number of Durango families who have nowhere to turn when the temperature drops. It is by no means a long-term solution for the growing homeless population, but it can mean the difference between danger and safety on any given night. It is a much-needed service.

It was also crafted in an innovative manner, spearheaded by Linda West, a volunteer at the United Methodist Thrift Store. After meeting a frostbitten homeless man at the thrift shop, West set about to create a supplement to Durango’s extensive shelter options that exceed their capacity or cannot serve all the area’s homeless populations. Doing so is not a simple undertaking – finding the appropriate facility is a challenge, as is locating a funding mechanism. West worked with human-service providers to clear both hurdles as well as look toward the longer-term vision for the families that will use Winter Haven and other shelters.

Achieving that vision – namely, long-term housing and the resources necessary to secure it – will require significantly more work than that it took to manifest Winter Haven, but the shelter and its advocates have established a baseline and a goal for gathering the necessary data to move in that direction. The road ahead will be lengthy and will likely require a slow pace, but marshaling a team of housing and human-service professionals is an essential component of that journey. In the offing, there will be food, warmth and community for families who lack them at a time when the stakes for all three can be dangerously high.

West and her cohort of advocates who worked to bring Winter Haven from concept to reality deserve recognition and great respect – for their compassion and commitment to addressing the need in concrete ways, in the short and long term. The collaboration that was required will surely build momentum toward more sustainable solutions for the families that the shelter serves.

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