Nonprofit Scrooge of the Year for 2013: Longmont’s OUR Center

By Max R. Weller

602126_10151505376987148_779260725_nExecutive Director Edwina Salazar (on right) accepts another donation of $$$

Sometime in 2012, the powers-that-be at Longmont’s OUR Center decided to end emergency overnight sheltering for homeless adult men and women, and focus instead on fundraising for a new facility dedicated to so-called transitional living. This change took place on January 1st of this year.

The Times-Call published a puff piece on March 9th about the new aim of this nonprofit, featuring a gentleman named Doug Branstetter. Read Longmont’s OUR Center offers a fresh start for those struggling , homeless. This was more than the Homeless Philosopher could stand to let pass without a challenge. So, I became involved in an online debate in the comments following the story:

homelessphilosopher: The fact is that many chronically homeless people will not succeed in transitional living programs.

What does the OUR Center do with them, since it no longer offers emergency overnight sheltering? It puts them on a bus to Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, which has already reached its capacity of 160 on most winter nights, so they wind up going to a network of churches and a synagogue operated by Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow.

Longmont should be taking care of its own, in view of the fact that the 2012 MDHI Point-in-Time Report counted more homeless people in Longmont than in Boulder! Ever heard of Lora Wilkerson? She’s the homeless woman who died of exposure in a Longmont city park on or about January 2, 2013.

stine1221: The truth is that the increase in the numbers of homeless people in Longmont in the 2012 Point-In-Time Survey largely reflect homeless families with children – not individuals. The OUR Center has always been and continues to be actively involved in sheltering families with children. In addition, Longmont continues to operate its own Warming Center system which is coordinated by Agape Family Services. At the same time, the Longmont community supports the Boulder Shelter — which is our regional shelter — with funding and other support. Again, the loss of Ms. Wilkerson was indeed a tragic event. However, there are many facts about her death which have never been released to the public — including the fact that she did not at the time of her death or in the years before it, utilize any Warming Center or shelter because she had a place to stay. It really is vital with issues like this to find out the real story before spreading misinformation to the public.

homelessphilosopher: Unfortunately, the OUR Center’s choice to end emergency overnight sheltering puts many chronically homeless people in Longmont, CO at risk. Future deaths can be expected. It’s far more important to understand the need for providing a minimal level of emergency sheltering/services FIRST, especially since referring homeless folks to Boulder Shelter is not a viable answer when that facility is already at its 160-person capacity. Let’s not play blame the victim here, please — who knows whether Ms. Wilkerson might still be alive if only the OUR Center had been open?

Indeed, Agape deserves credit for picking up a small portion of the slack, but it’s only a small portion. According to press accounts, they have room for 50 overnight guests. Boulder Shelter for the Homeless is taking in 160 almost every night, and Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow over 100 at their network of churches and a synagogue. Since the 2012 MDHI Point-in-Time Report counted many more homeless people in Longmont than in Boulder, why is the latter city expected to house the former city’s overflow? Please explain the logic behind this policy adopted by the OUR Center.

stine1221: The reasons for the decision to close the OUR Center’s Warming Center have been widely communicated over the last year to all those directly involved as well as to the community at large.

It is really sad that one man’s amazing and inspirational story is being used to try to stir up controversy. At this point, the focus needs to go back to where it belongs – which is on celebrating Doug and his wonderful story of transformation.

homelessphilosopher: Sadder still that his success story is being exploited as a fundraising tool.

Not much glory nor many $$$ in emergency overnight sheltering/services for the chronically homeless, the most vulnerable among us.

DougBranstetter: Future Deaths Can be Expected.
The OUR Center is the one fighting for the Homeless. At the OUR Center, all of the people who are homeless or at risk are welcome to be a part of the recovery program. As a person who has been homeless, to me the OUR Center saved my life. I became homeless after I was a victim of Identity Theft. That is when I found the OUR Center, a place where I could get warm, free food, and use the telephone. My life was turned upside down; I lost my job, and all of my personal property. After getting out of the hospital all I had were the close on my back. I was starving, wet and sick. No one wanted to be around me, everyone assumed that what ever happened to me I deserved. I all most dyed. I had never had so much trouble before in my life; I had no idea what to do. I was HOMELESS overnight and I believed I was going to die. That is when I found myself at the doors of the OUR Center, free food, heat, other who seemed to be in somewhat of the same suctions that I found myself in. A placed where the only question they asked me was are you hungry?
Reverend Sandy Steward, approached me, (for those that do not know Reverend Steward she might be 5’8 a very small woman, and I am loud, ugly, frighten, and an old man.) and asked if I would tell her my store about how I found my way to the OUR Center. So I yelled my story to her thinking that like me she could not hear me, and when I was done she told me that she (the OUR Center) could help me, but it might get worse before it would get better. Reverend Steward took me over to the servicing line so that I could eat lunch, after you eat come back to the Homeless Shelter and I will help you with some other things, maybe some other close, a shower, and some food to take with me. That night I sleep in the park, in the cold rain. I tried to sleep all I could think of was what am I going to do, I have lost everything in my life, and I have nowhere to go. In the morning I walked down to the OUR Center, there was hot coffee, oatmeal, and rolls, as I eat a small voice asked how I was, I all most thought that she was talking to someone else. Reverend Steward said to me that she would like to help me recover.
That was how I started my recovery from Identity Theft and Homelessness. I did whatever I was asked to do follow the steps, get a Colorado Identification, apply for food stamps, and apply at Social Service. I also filled out a volunteer application to work at the OUR Center. At this time there was not a homeless shelter at all I was on my own. I worked the steps to my own recovery, which the OUR Center has proved to work. I am just one. It is up to the homeless person where they want to stay, drunk in the park, or on the river, or in those eighty dollar a nights hotels. I chose not to return to drinking, but to fight to help myself and others to recover from homelessness. I pray for my friends who are homeless and are suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, I hope that they will reach their bottom and return to a life that they can be productive in. I worked to get the OUR Center to open the Warming Center, in the beginning I worked 90 hours a week to support it, and I would have worked more if the warming center would have worked out, but it did not people were abusing the warming center and other clients. Having a place to just use to sleep in out of the cold is not ok for anyone. I would hope that jobs could open up for our homeless even if they were only small paying jobs. I think that would be one way for the homeless to gain their own respect back to make their own way in Longmont, if not work for cash how about for a night in one of those hotels. I know that as a small city like Longmont it is hard to see people down on their luck. However, each one of our homeless has the potential to do better so let’s find a way to help them be all they can be, on their own with the help of programs like The OUR Center, H.O.P.E., Agape, and others.
I would like to thank all of the people who volunteer and work to find solutions to helping Longmont’s homeless. I pray that none of us have to be homeless. I pray that we all can work on helping each other homeless or not.
God said, “Love your enemy as I have loved you.”
If using my store helps even one person recover from homelessness then I am all for it. I pray that I might be able to do more. O yea, I am learning to read and write. There are also others that want people to succeed, it is just that the OUR Center is the one that you think is not doing a good job.
Chronically complaining is not how we need to get thing done. We need to pull together as one.
Thank You All
Doug Branstetter
If I can I will.

homelessphilosopher: Just so we’ll understand each other, Mr. Branstetter, I applaud your success story and I have no objection to anyone participating in a “program” in a sincere attempt to better their life circumstances. I’ve been in six different types of programs, run by both public and private organizations, in the decade that I’ve been homeless. I’ve also volunteered and been employed by homeless shelter/services providers. You, sir, are the exception to what I’ve observed as the rule among the majority of any program’s clients (including myself): they fail to gain any long-term benefit from it. You deserve congratulations and best wishes for the future!

However, offering a transitional living program AND emergency overnight shelter to the chronically homeless — despite all of their problems — are not mutually exclusive approaches. It would be more accurate to call them complementary ways to address homelessness.

Programs aren’t for the majority of homeless who are only “on the streets” for a short time due to circumstances which are resolved in a month or two, nor are they helpful to substance abusers who have no desire to get clean and sober.

I know all about the negative aspects of emergency overnight shelters from extensive firsthand experience in several cities, including Boulder, CO. Now, I prefer to live outdoors year-round rather than put up with the worst-behaved transients. It’s a physically challenging lifestyle, but I get an occasional “vacation” indoors with caring and generous friends.

A civilized society simply does NOT allow homeless people to die on the streets. Longmont’s OUR Center, together with faith-based groups there, should be doing far more to deal with the chronically homeless who are the most vulnerable among us. Very few want to change, but that’s beside the point. Providing hot meals, clothing, showers and laundry facilities, etc. are very basic humanitarian gestures — providing warm and dry shelter overnight during wintertime can SAVE LIVES.

Boulder’s resources are stretched to the breaking point by all of the transients from Denver and elsewhere. As I’ve said, it’s unconscionable for Longmont’s OUR Center to put homeless people on a bus to Boulder!

BOTTOM LINE: Keeping an emergency overnight shelter open during the wintertime will not affect the transitional living program in any way; in fact, Boulder Shelter’s program clients typically come from those homeless people using the men’s and women’s emergency dorms.

Again, best wishes to you, Doug!

djshinyjules: I have had the pleasure of knowing Doug for many years. This man truly has a heart of gold. I just wanted to congratulate him on all he has accomplished. Thank you Doug for being such a great friend, you are truly one of a kind. Best Wishes and God Bless you. The Long Family

Citizen5150: Mr. Brandstetter is a very nice man, but I used to serve lunch with my church many years ago at the Our Center and I think the newspaper omitted the part about alcohol in the story. I thought that was curious. If it is the truth why leave that out? Mr. Brandstetter should take credit for getting sober. I also wonder why the Our Center is using such an old story. Mr. Brandstetter has been recovered and helping others for years now. Have there been no other success stories from this organization that are more recent? By the looks of the increasing number of homeless on the streets I am guessing not.

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During the Great Flood in September, the entire population of Lyons, CO was evacuated. Did this catastrophe prompt the OUR Center to open a temporary emergency overnight shelter for flood evacuees? No! I blogged about it in this post: Kudos to Longmont’s LifeBridge Church; OUR Center is MIA. Copied below in its entirety:

Read the Times-Call story of flood evacuees from Lyons finding emergency overnight shelter and other assistance at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, CO. Quoting from the article below:

The church, which had sought community donations earlier in the day, was by 2 p.m. asking the public to quit bringing donations. The only items still needed were cots.

“If people ask, we’re good with lunch stuff, and dinner’s covered,” Jay Ewing, one of the church’s pastors, told a group of volunteers at about 11:30 a.m.

“And no more bread, please,” he added as a cart full of loaves was loaded up and taken into the church.

Dinner is being donated by Oskar Blues tonight.

“They’ll cook up a nice dinner for them and that’s awesome,” Ewing said. “We need cots — that’s the biggest thing.”

He said the church had received about 700 evacuees by midday . . .

This is truly what charitable giving is all about. It gladdens the heart of even an old curmudgeon like the Homeless Philosopher.

What can we say about a secular nonprofit in Longmont which takes in millions of dollars every year, but isn’t providing any emergency overnight shelter for flood victims and opens its food pantry to Longmont residents only? We can say two things: 1) it’s called the OUR Center; and 2) its executive director is Edwina Salazar.

BTW, the OUR Center also ended wintertime overnight sheltering last January, deciding instead to put the homeless people they used to serve on the RTD bus over to Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.

Even as an agnostic, there’s no doubt in my mind about which organization deserves financial support from the public.

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There you have it. When you think of the OUR Center in the future, just picture Old Ebenezer as he was before he gained spiritual redemption:

scrooge

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