And many of those 252 spaces aren't available on a day-to-day basis. During non-winter months in Denver, there are around thirty beds total, including those at WHI churches, that women can sign up for that day on an "emergency" basis. Another 154 spots are categorized as "program beds"; the women who get those spots have them for a longer period and don't need to sign up for daily lotteries. And while they are at those shelters, they are participating in programs — including drug treatment, mental-health services and job searches — to help them get their lives back on track. Women shuffling through the emergency-bed lotteries are often on waiting lists for program beds; in the meantime, they get few of those others services.

While men's shelters have had vacancies — in the past, sometimes as many as fifty beds or mats went unused on a given night — women's shelters are almost always packed. In fact, since the camping ban went into effect, shelters for both men and women usually reach capacity.

And the wait for programs can be long. At the Delores Project, which is responsible for 42 of the program beds in the city for women, the average stay is eight and a half months — and that length has been growing over the past year.

Diana Flahive became project coordinator of the Women's Homeless Initiative.
Diana Flahive became project coordinator of the Women's Homeless Initiative.
Erica Guzman, Teresa Turner and Stefanie Cardwell rely on the services and shelter of the Gathering Place and the Delores Project.
Erica Guzman, Teresa Turner and Stefanie Cardwell rely on the services and shelter of the Gathering Place and the Delores Project.

In the winter, there are an additional fifteen overflow emergency beds for women, as well as the fifty extra mats that the city just made available in the Minoru Yasui building at 303 West Colfax Avenue. This is the first time Road Home has funded an additional cold-weather shelter exclusively for women.

If a woman can't find a spot in any of these places, the next stop is to try to get vouchers for motels, which are only available to women and families. There are about 88 voucher spots assigned to families, which helps women with children. But for women on their own, only two dozen motel rooms are available on a given night, and they come with restrictions. While under city rules vouchers will be available to women under any circumstance if it's under 40 degrees, a woman is otherwise eligible for only twelve vouchers over a twelve-month period — and any out-of-county homeless who end up in Denver only get one. Additionally, if a woman breaks the rules — anything from trashing a motel room to causing a scene or bringing in guests — she can be put on a no-voucher list.

Bennie Milliner, executive director of Road Home, points out that his agency is dedicated to long-term solutions for homelessness. But in the meantime, he says, the city is flexible with vouchers, and in most situations — and especially during cold-weather conditions — it will manage to find space for women in need.

Still, some women say they've given up trying to get vouchers, since the process just isn't worth the trouble. And they don't consider the various lotteries much better.

On Monday and Thursday mornings, 49-year-old Teresa Turner often finds herself shaking uncontrollably and is unable to eat breakfast. These are the days her short-term emergency spot at the Delores Project expires, and she has to enter her name into a lottery to see if she will have a place to stay over the next half-week.

Turner has only been homeless for about two months, since she lost her home at a mobile park where she was once a property manager. In the first weeks, she spent some nights in a friend's car and others on the street until she found the Gathering Place, a daytime center for women. At the Gathering Place, women get free meals, access to computers and connections to other much-needed services, including places that provide beds at night.

The Delores Project, which primarily saves its beds for longer-term use, sets aside ten emergency spots for women in immediate need of shelter. Four of those beds are designated for women at the Gathering Place. During the winter, though, Delores uses city funding to add overflow beds, giving the Gathering Place a total of ten emergency beds that it can offer women.

Before those extra beds were added, Turner was only chosen once in the lottery.

So on Mondays and Thursdays, she waits and listens for her name. When it isn't called, she has to wait several hours before she can get on the phone with the Delores Project and see what other emergency beds might be available. "I start freaking out the night before, and I'm a mess," she says. "I walk around the shelter and I stress everybody else out and I don't sleep, and then in the morning, I start panicking.... What if I don't get back in? Where do I go? What am I gonna do? I have nowhere to go."

Sometimes her hands shake so badly, she can't dial the phone to see if there are any spots left.

This summer, sometimes as many as eighteen women at the Gathering Place signed up for the Delores lottery, when there were only four beds available.

"It's just like the life game," says twenty-year-old Erica Guzman, who has been relying on the Gathering Place and the Delores Project since September. "You can choose where you want to go, but then there's this stuff in the way in the course of the game. You can choose...but you're not guaranteed that's where it's gonna be."

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3 comments
jwc4christ
jwc4christ

I am a homeless man. I have had to sleep outside before. When there are empty beds, mats, or, cots in a shelter it is because there are still people camping, not because we have solved the problem of homelessness.

Renaldo
Renaldo

Six days and no comments on the front page story? Is it a sign of how relevant and important the story is, or how irrelevant Westword has become? Both? I mean, it seems any semi-sentient being who simply reads the headline would immediately ask, "Is it really worse for homeless women than men, or is Westword once again fabricating an issue (sexual bias) where there is none?"

So you might think that somewhere in the first paragraph, or at least the first dozen paragraphs, there would be an explanation of the problem this article supposedly addresses, you know, the bias against homeless women. And, when you get to the very end of the introductory section, somewhere around paragraph 12, you will read "But homeless women say that the city hasn't done enough. Even with the lotteries, they charge, the odds are stacked against them. While beds assigned to men occasionally go empty, homeless women say that sometimes, sleeping on the streets seems like the only realistic option."

So "homeless women say" the odds are stacked against them, huh? Guess that's enough evidence to write a huge multi-page cover story, 'cause some unidentified homeless women said so...I tried to read the rest of the article, and while the author alluded to numbers here and there, it would appear the article and its title are intentionally misleading. Because, when you finally get to page 4, you can read how "While men's shelters have had vacancies — in the past, sometimes as many as fifty beds or mats went unused on a given night — women's shelters are almost always packed. In fact, since the camping ban went into effect, shelters for both men and women usually reach capacity." 

So let's get this straight; the men's and women's shelters have been full since "the camping ban" went into effect...last April? In other words, from the start of this winter both the men's and woman's shelters have been full to capacity, despite the story starting off with the claim that bed's in men's shelters go unused? OK, well there's still a problem with women being underrepresented, right? Which is why on page 5 you can read "In the 2007 survey, there were 787 homeless women counted in Denver — which accounted for just 28.7 percent of the homeless population. The latest count determined that more than 1,000 women were homeless in Denver."

I'm guessing that the number of men who are homeless has also increased significantly since the bottom fell out of the economy and that's why the author doesn't want to mention whether, as a percentage of the total homeless population, the number of women actually went up or down (yeah, who wants to mess with actual facts and present the full story when you're fabricating an issue). Nonetheless, if (unlike the author) you are capable of adding two and two you will see that for every homeless woman in Denver there are roughly two homeless men. And, as quoted in the paragraph above, both the men's and woman's shelters are full to capacity. So the article basically argues that, never mind there are two men on the street for every woman, homeless women are being discriminated against...or something like, well, there are these things at the convention center and there are so many homeless people and so many services and it's all so confusing, and women are coming here from out of state, and women have special issues vs. men...and if we throw all these half-truths and misinformation and "stuff" (including some partial numbers) together it's a cover story, right?

But I guess that's just what happens when you don't want to rock that stinky Denver boat, lest someone lose their invite to Hick's xmas parties - you make up stuff about discrimination against homeless women that really doesn't exist, as opposed to writing about our hypocritical self-serving politicians, slimy "business leaders", the criminal cops, the failing schools, the amazingly dysfunctional University, the increasing street crime, etc., etc. Yep, please write some more unintelligible articles about the demise of RockBar, now THAT'S important....

Merry Christmas, and thanks again for doing such a great job...

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

@Renaldo thanks for the message -- and yes, it's the first one posted after this story. Our news stories often do not get comments -- unlike anything on pit bulls or pot -- so we appreciate this. In fact, we'd like to publish it in our print edition, ideally with your full name. Please contact me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

 
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