Bigger, Stronger, Better
Thoughts from a member of our Executive Team as a leader in the affordable housing industry.
Director of Programs
I was recently reminded of all that Archway has accomplished as I was serving meals to families living at our Fountain community, and I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. None of the families knew who I was as I made my way around the room picking up plates and helping the kids line up for games and prizes. The smiles, laughter, and happy parents overjoyed that their children would receive something they could not otherwise afford, reminds me daily why I do this work. For the last 20 years I have worked directly in supportive services for organizations that focus on housing and serving a wide and diverse range of individuals and families. As the Director of Programs at Archway Communities, it is my responsibility to oversee these programs and ensure we are elevating lives by providing access to the human needs trifecta: affordable housing, food security, and the supportive social services people need to thrive. Through trauma-informed design, Archway Communities creates safe spaces for connectivity and a sense of belonging, increasing the tenants investment in their community and by providing all residents with a safe place to come together in a holistic way.
For the last 25 years, Archway Communities has operated as a nonprofit, affordable housing developer. Soon after our founding, in response to resident input, Archway began the Supportive Services Program to provide essential services addressing individual barriers to increase independence. Today, Archway serves over 1,500 individuals in Colorado in 10 communities through a Housing First model, which is an approach that prioritizes permanent housing so individuals can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is around impact, “How do you know the investment in services is changing lives?” In my role, I see the change the services team is making daily as I interact with the tenants. However, in a data and outcomes driven world, I need to relay what I see in a meaningful way to demonstrate efficacy and how this work changes lives.
According to a report done in August of 2021 by the Common Sense Institute, a non-partisan research organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of Colorado’s economy, the average cost to Colorado taxpayers for an individual experiencing homelessness averages up to $100,000 for those that are ‘high utilizers’ of services. Conversely, according to Denver Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond Initiative, the average cost of a supportive housing unit for one person is $36,000. These benefits to taxpayers and lawmakers are obvious and show the vital need to create more opportunities for housing that include supportive services.
What sets Archway apart from other services providers is that while we do support individuals and families in danger of falling into, or already experiencing homelessness, unlike other organizations, Archway sees the need to support those living in between homelessness and housing stability. I have seen first-hand these struggles and we are committed to helping individuals and families find not just housing stability and affordability, but the resources they need such as access to food, case management, linkages to health and mental healthcare, benefits access, transportation, community engagement, and so much more. A recent example was when a service team member found a child at her site walking around barefoot. When she asked him why, he said “my mom threw away my shoes because they were too small and had holes. She doesn’t have money for new ones.” Fortunately, thanks to a local partnership, the staff had shoes in his size available, and the gratitude from both the child and his mother was immeasurable.
Evidence also shows that housing leads to better health outcomes. Through our supportive service program and the work our dedicated staff does to connect residents with resources, we contribute to reducing the overall community costs of services such as emergency health, behavioral health, and substance use resources. By providing on-site supportive services, the services team works with the tenants to connect them to basic needs such as healthy food resources, farm-to-table cooking classes, connection support to benefits such as medical, vision, and dental, and taking an overall proactive approach to addressing complex medical needs. By doing so, the services team is addressing critical social determinants of health.
All of this shows that at Archway we know a roof over people’s heads is not enough to increase independence and stability. Research shows that the key is providing essential supportive services alongside housing. When me and my team work with the residents in our communities, we are empowering them by teaching skills that increase autonomy and overall financial stability. We work collaboratively with the tenants, we prioritize housing retention, and we support them in maintaining housing, thus creating stabilization and reducing the overall connection to family welfare services.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has found that poverty, unemployment, and lack of affordable housing are commonly recognized causes of homelessness. These risk factors can be exacerbated by personal vulnerabilities such as mental and substance use disorders, trauma and violence, domestic violence, disabilities, and more. These factors are realities faced by many of the residents living in Archway communities. The Low-Income Housing Coalition has reported that in Colorado alone, there is a shortage of more than 110,000 affordable rental homes for extremely low-income renters. While organizations like Archway are working diligently to expand the stock of affordable housing options, more work needs to be done. And without additional funding dedicated to supportive services, these individuals and families will continue to struggle.