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Manna takes to the streets to combat housing insecurity

Manna, a Durango soup kitchen, launched a state grant-funded street outreach program to bring resources to people experiencing homelessness. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
$260,000 state grant pays for new program

Manna, a Durango soup kitchen, is bringing health and housing resources, street by street, to people experiencing homelessness.

The nonprofit’s street outreach team distributes supplies such as face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while connecting people to housing resources. The on-the-ground approach fills a gap in how services are provided, Manna said. About $260,600 in state grants provided the funding to make it happen.

“This is the first team in town that’s really identified as street outreach and (is) really going out and looking for people to help,” said Ann Morse, Manna executive director.

Manna used the funding, an emergency solutions grant provided by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Division of Housing, to distribute basic supplies, such as sleeping bags and bus tokens, to people in the homeless community.

The three-person team also distributes personal protective equipment. One of the grant’s main goals is to help prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19 in Durango’s homeless community, Morse said.

The nonprofit also purchased a vehicle for the outreach team using the grant money, she said.

“Sometimes, it’s going out and meeting somebody 20 times before they trust you. We’re building that trust,” she said.

The street outreach team adds to an existing network of support for individuals and families facing housing insecurity, Morse said.

Manna’s team works closely with organizations such as Housing Solutions for the Southwest and the Neighbors in Need Alliance to help people find appropriate housing.

The team members help people fill out a vulnerability tool that puts them in line for the housing that meets their needs.

The team can also collect data to enter people into the state’s homeless management information system.

Many services require people to visit a certain location, but the grant funding allows Manna’s street outreach team to meet people where they are, said Marissa Hunt, street outreach team supervisor.

“You can’t expect everyone to be at our facility every single day,” Hunt said. “We want to provide people with the resources they need to reach their goals.”

Similar programs are happening in more metropolitan areas, Hunt said.

“Folks in need are expected to be in so many places at once,” Hunt said, referring to the appointments with service organizations. “It can be overwhelming. We’ve found with street outreach, if you can go to people, build trust and have conversations, you can start lending that helping hand that helps people pursue their next steps.”

smullane@durangoherald.com