The Women's Homelessness Initiative, coordinated through Capitol Hill United Ministries, is a consortium of over 50 congregations, agencies, organizations, and 1,000 volunteers offering overnight sanctuary every night for women experiencing homelessness. Our mission is to serve those in need, educate our community, and advocate for women who are without homes.
Capitol Hill United Ministries is an interfaith organization comprised of over 50 congregations and service agencies in the Capitol Hill and greater Denver area. Our mission is to be a spiritual presence and resource in the inner city of Denver, to practice hospitality, to advocate for our neighbors in need, and to strengthen and sustain our member communities, particularly through effective communication and cooperation, enhancing the ministry of all.
The Women's Homelessness Initiative (WHI) began 10 years ago as the story of unhoused and at-risk women - was heard. The Executive Director of CHUM called together a number of concerned individuals and without finances, put together a cohort of sites and what became 1,000 volunteers, to offer hospitality and safe shelter every night of the year for eight years. The women are hosted at 14 different sites in the Capitol Hill and Park Hill areas of Denver and the program is supported with in-kind contributions. In addition, more than 50 other congregations, organizations, agencies, book clubs, and concerned individuals and groups come together as volunteers to offer sanctuary to our women who are homeless. WHI has affected the lives of thousands of people who are members of these various groups. WHI is, in every sense of the word, a grassroots program that significantly changed the hearts and minds of those in our community, both individuals and institutions, on the issue of homelessness. WHI has been touted as a program that has positively changed the landscape for women's homelessness in the City of Denver. Our book, EXPOSURE Homelessness Through the Lens of Art and Poetry, clearly presents words of the heart regarding how WHI changes not only the lives of those with whom we walk but the lives of those who serve.
COVID has generated an even larger level of involvement as increasing numbers of people of all ages in our community have become involved with providing for the needs of the poor. WHI is a grassroots program in all aspects that grows care of others and affects all at a deep a basic level.
Those who have been part of the volunteer team have changed in that they no longer see those who are marginalized in a negative, fearful way. More importantly, they can never again just turn away and not see our brothers and sisters who are without home. Story after story is shared from those who are retired to little ones coming in parent's arms, having the eyes of their heart opened. They have joyfully given every night of the year their time, their treasure, and their talent. Because WHI is basically an all-volunteer operation (with limited direct financial support), all those involved - individuals and congregational sites alike - are giving radically from their abundance - from very large organizations to very small,
In WHI we have chosen to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless and we constantly walk with and journey with our women every day as witnesses and voices for those who have so little. Our women are not seen, heard, or known by the larger community. Through WHI and the work of our volunteers, our street warriors are SEEN, HEARD and KNOWN.
Through WHI, we have been part of the "tendrils of change" in our city of Denver. Tom Luehrs, Executive Director of the St. Francis Center had articulated that eight years ago, "WHI has shined a light on the issue of women and homelessness in the city of Denver. Before WHI, there was little available regarding safe sanctuary for women. Because of WHI, more programs have stepped up. However, nothing has created the coming together of so many different organizations, individuals, congregations, volunteers who work together to create WHI. This includes not only safety and care in the sanctuaries of our churches - WHI also gives an opportunity for hands-on experiences for so many … and hearts and minds are being changed. The program also provides a hot dinner and a take-out breakfast for each of our women. And there is so much more to do. With additional financial support we can offer some other possibilities for our women, hopefully help pay for some overnight support for our congregations that are small and are having a difficult time providing overnight volunteers."
City Councilwoman Robin Kniech asked Diana Flahive to be a presenter on a Zoom event for a Denver Ballot issue 2B, in support of a small tax to be used for our homeless projects. Robin has been a volunteer for one of our sites. In the past she said: "Thank you for what you do every day, for not giving up, or being too busy to be part of a broader community that is making a difference while we keep working on the permanent, long-term solutions women experiencing homelessness need and deserve. All my love. Robin"
Stephanie Johnson-Wall, Volunteer Coordinator of the Delores Project wrote:
"The Women's Homeless Initiative coordinates many volunteers to support a number of organizations within the Denver community, and The Delores Project is one of the lucky beneficiaries of their work. The Delores Project transitioned from an overnight shelter to 24/7 operations for 40 unaccompanied women and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness in response to the pandemic, which doubled our meal needs. We rely on WHI for a weekly donation of sack lunches, which helps us to feed our community. Their volunteers have provided over 320 sack lunches since September and will continue their lunches. In addition, they have been a partner with offering other asked for donations, as needed. WHI is open to feedback, adaptable to our changing needs, and clear about all parties' commitments. We are grateful for their partnership in supporting individuals facing homelessness to find stability and a place to call home."
Jim Boberschmidt, St. Francis Center Street Outreach has received ready-made lunches twice a week for those who are out on the street. "The lunches are met with happiness for those who are lucky to receive them. In addition, there have been thousands of snack bags created and donated by WHI volunteers. We also have received hundreds of cases of water and tons of clothing and personal needs at the St. Francis Center for our clients who are there. Their ability to offer a humane gesture to our community members is a necessary step in building trusting relationships outside. We are grateful to receive them from the many WHI volunteers as they help build bridges with our homeless community."
Andrew Spinks Development Director, St. Francis Center:
"When COVID-19 led to an increased need for 24/7 shelters, the St. Francis Center (SFC) opened its space to serve lunch. With its own staff already spread thin, SFC reached out to the Women's Homeless Initiative (WHI) for help. Volunteers from WHI prepared hundreds of sack lunches, dropping them off to be served every day for many weeks. In addition, WHI and their team of amazing volunteers have provided tons of needed clothing, books, personal care, thousands of snack bags, art supplies, hand-made masks and other necessary needs for our guests. The partnership between WHI and SFC made filling our needs possible. Thank you WHI."
Ryan Taylor, Executive Director, Network Coffee House:
"Network has greatly benefited from WHI's generous donations as we have offered emergency services to the unhoused community throughout this year. They've made our burden significantly lighter as we provide meals and hygiene products to hundreds of people each week."
WHI has worked with 5 different Episcopal Churches in the Denver area and has partnered with the St. Francis Center and was a moving force for the St. Francis Apartments, both programs influenced and supported through the Episcopal Diocese. Since the WHI Director's presentation at the High Plains Convocation last year, two other Episcopal congregations have become involved and Ascension Church is ready to be another shelter site when we can re-open.
Our team and other city entities that know about our program would say that our success rate is beyond 100%. We have offered safe sanctuary, food, and hospitality every night of the week until COVID struck. Then WHI was resilient and looked at new ways to support other agencies working with those who are homeless. Our WHI Team provided 50 tons of needed supplies (clothing, personal hygiene products). Also, over 6,000 homemade or store-bought facemasks, hundreds of cases of water, and thousands of lunches to 13 agencies were delivered. We have gone beyond our goals. Many of our guests, whom we are privileged to serve, have told us that WHI is their preference. Most nights we have many more on our wait list than we can serve.
This small program - with very little funding - and operating on a volunteer basis -- has had a big impact on the issue of homelessness in the city of Denver and the thousands of individuals who have been touched by our women served.