Doyle Robinson has run Sox Place, a downtown daytime shelter for youth, for more than a decade; during that time, he's seen the nonprofit's rent skyrocket as the area became more and more popular. For more than two years, Sox Place was on a month-to-month lease at 2017 Larimer Street while Robinson scouted for a new spot. This summer, he finally found one: Sox Place's original home at 2017 Lawrence Street.
Sox Place got its start in 1998, when co-founders Doyle Robinson and his son, Jordan, would drive around downtown and distribute socks to homeless kids on the street. In 2002, when they were featured in a Westword cover story, "The Misfits," they opened a drop-in shelter on Lawrence Street and named it for the street name that Doyle had been given: Sox.
In 2009, Sox Place moved its award-winning drop-in center to Larimer Street, where costs were less expensive. But the starting rent there of $800 a month had increased to $2,800 by early this year. And when the owners of the nearby Ginn Mill wanted the Larimer location for a new bar, Sox Place had to find a new home. Staying downtown was essential. "Being downtown is very important because that's where everybody finds us," Robinson says. "Whether the city likes it or not, this is where everyone gathers."
Robinson had asked Kaili Blue, who works at the day shelter, what would happen if Sox Place moved further down Broadway to, say, Sixth Avenue -- and she'd told him that kids wouldn't go there because they don't have bus money or because it's too far away from other services. "Downtown is where everybody is, where everything everybody needs is," Blue adds.
Since Sox Place sees fifty to eighty youth coming through the doors each day, Robinson not only needed a convenient spot, but a large one. He looked for a less expensive space, but in July Sox Place ended up going back to its former location, a 4,400 square-foot building just a block away, where it pays $4,300 a month.
But the larger space also gave the nonprofit the opportunity to move its screen-printing business to the forefront.
In fact, if you walk past the storefront, you may not recognize that it's a shelter at all. The shelter entrance is in the alley, while the screen-printing business faces the street.
Robinson says he was asked to put the shelter entrance in the alley so that residents of the neighboring apartment building wouldn't complain. Instead, people walking by see an artsy store, rather than a reminder that some people just need a couch, food and conversation to make it through the day. "It's wrong, but it's best," Robinson says of the alley entrance. "It keeps them out of trouble."
The homeless "are part of the downtown urban landscape," he continues. "Any city you go to, they are there. Are they unsightly? I guess it depends on how you look at it. For me, yuppies are unsightly. And I don't especially like hippies."
Last week, the alley was unplowed -- icy, snow-covered and wet -- with large trucks bellowing right outside the shelter's entrance. Kids hung out outside, smoking before entering the no-drugs, no-alcohol safe zone that is Sox Place.
On the other side of the building, a small A-frame sign welcomed people to come in and see hand-printed shirts. The smartly designed Sox Place Screen Printing logo on the door looks like one you'd find in RiNo; you enter into a small room with hardwood floors, a rack displaying examples of the shop's work, a few nice chairs and a desk with a Mac desktop.
Benten Woodring, manager of Sox Place Screen Printing, says the shop has seen a lot more business since it opened the storefront. That's all to the good of the cause, because the screen-printing service raises money for the programming -- $21,000 since it got started in November 2011 -- and trains and employs some of the Sox Place youth. In Sox Place's previous location on Larimer, the screen-printing shop was located in the basement.
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Beyond the shop is the shelter, a large room where kids can truly relax. A few rows of sofas line part of the room, offering a cozy, homey feel, which is what Robinson says he was going for. There's a video game station and a line of computers with Internet, as well as a place to grab clothes and food. Unlike at many shelters, Sox Place has no required check in or sign-up for life-skills programs.
But you get the feeling that a formal check-in isn't needed at Sox Place, since Robinson is always on duty, constantly on alert. He's not looking to scold or correct, but rather to offer a smile and ask how you're doing. "I want it to be more like family. When my boys were at home, they weren't required to go to programs," Robinson says. But if someone is looking for a service, Sox Place will help them find it, or sign them up for Sox Place's optional intern program, Streets2Stability.
"There have been things said about us, that we're enabling kids to continue living this lifestyle, but I think this is a great way to mentor," Robinson says. "Most don't have fathers in their lives, so Jordan and I get to live out in front of them how a father-and-son relationship should be."
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