The hungry people in Northern Colorado may look familiar. With
downturns in the economy the poverty stricken people are friends,
neighbors and family, said Karen Hart, development director at the
Food Bank for Larimer County.
“The face of hunger is changing,” she said. “Many of the people
we serve are the working poor.”
Around 35 percent of the people the food bank is helping has one
or more members of the family working.
Heidi Phelps, federal grants administrator for the City of Fort
Collins, agreed. She said the faces of the working poor are not
what we expect. Firefighters, schoolteachers and students all need
affordable housing assistance.
Several assistance organizations have noticed an increased need
in the past few years. In the last fiscal year the food bank
distributed 3.4 million pounds of food. This year it is on track to
distribute 4.2 million, for an increase of about 23 percent.
“It is becoming increasing difficult to keep up,” Hart said.
A study done in 2001 reported that 82 percent of the people
receiving food from the Food Bank for Larimer County have to choose
between food and rent, food and medical assistance or food and
utilities, Hart said.
For Neighbor to Neighbor, a organization offering a
comprehensive array of housing services to low income people in
northern Colorado, the most-needed program lately is homelessness
In Fort Collins a person must make $15.99 per hour to be able
afford a two-bedroom apartment, Hart said. The area median income
for a family of four in Fort Collins is $64,800, Phelps said.
According to Tracy Kile, director of fundraising and outreach at
Neighbor to Neighbor, there has been a major increase in mortgage
counseling. This service provides a counselor to people having a
hard time paying their mortgage.
“(We) have seen a tremendous increase in how much money it takes
to survive,” Phelps said.
Other programs designed to help residents keep their homes have
also seen an increase in need, Kile said. These programs include
the emergency rent assistance program, which helps pay the rent of
people who are just barely making enough money to survive when an
“(The goal) is to keep people that have a sustainability plan in
their houses,” Kile said.
According to Hart, losing a home or falling into poverty is
something that can happen to anyone. She said families that are
just barely getting by can have an emergency and end up stuck.
Bruce Hall, associate professor of social work at CSU, agreed.
He said when two incomes are completely committed to the family,
“any disruption in their life and they are flat against the
“(Poverty-stricken people suffer) a crisis which can happen to
any of us,” Hart said.
Hall also said around 50 percent of Fort Collins residents are
one paycheck away from homelessness.
“It is also notable that of the people staying locally at an
overnight shelter operated by Catholic Charities Northern ‘The
Mission’, over 70 percent are employed but at wages too low to
afford sufficient housing in this area,” according to the Larimer
County Compass Web site, www.co.larimer.co.us/compass/.
Sometimes just an increase in utilities can make things
unbearably worse. Sister Mary Alice Murphy, coordinator for social
services at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 300 W. Mountain Ave., is
really worried about what the increased cost in electric utilities
“First thing is they have a house to live,” she said. “Second is
Volunteers throughout Northern Colorado have found outlets to
help the poor and homeless people in their communities.
“The problems are so big,” Sister Murphy said. So many people
need help in different ways that different agencies try to do
something others when are not. This fragments the resources so that
the clients must travel from one place to the other to receive
their services, she said.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church runs a Homelessness Prevention
Drive, with 22 churches and other groups. The drive is raising
money to help keep people in their homes. Murphy believes each
community helps, there is more of a chance of people getting back
on their feet.
“If the community really knows about the problem, they help,”
Specific emergencies people may encounter include a house
burning down, losing a job, illness or divorce, among others, said
Gail Barrerra, front desk/volunteer coordinator for Catholic
Charities Northern, Mission, 460 Linden Center Drive.
Catholic Charities Northern Mission, provide a variety of
services. The mission offers:
-A soup kitchen
-A legislative network
“Our goal is to empower people to become self-sufficient,”
The City of Fort Collins spearheaded a Faces and Places of
Affordable Housing poster campaign in 2002 to raise awareness about
affordable housing. Posters illustrated who needs affordable
housing, local homelessness facts and projects about how great
affordable housing is, Phelps said.
“Housing is affordable if a person is spending no more than 30
percent of their income on it,” she said. “We work very hard to
make sure affordable housing is dispersed throughout the city.”
Phelps said housing costs have out-paced wages by about 2-to-1
in past years.
Neighbor to Neighbor is a grassroots organization that has grown
since 1970. They offer help with emergency rent assistance,
mortgage counseling, a transitional housing program and affordable
Neighbor to Neighbor owns and manages over 150 units of
affordable housing in Fort Collins and Loveland.