Mar 232004
Authors: Colleen Buhrer

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

emergency arises.

“(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,

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

will do.

“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,”

she said.

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:

-Transitional housing

-A soup kitchen

-Community meals

-Senior outreach

-Volunteer companionship

-Emergency assistance

-A legislative network

“Our goal is to empower people to become self-sufficient,”

Barrerra said.

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.

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