October 5, 2017

Breaking Cycles of Homelessness in Indian Country: Supportive Housing at Ute Mountain

The Sleeping Ute Mountain. The town of Towaoc is at the toe of the mountain

My name is Chayse Romero. I’m a Cultural and Climate Tribal Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer and I have been serving at the Ute Mountain Housing Authority for about eleven months. Located in Southwest Colorado, Ute Mountain Housing Authority (UMHA) designs, develops and manages all affordable and culturally appropriate housing on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation.

With there being a shortage of affordable housing across Indian Country, UMHA began to think of solutions outside of the box. About three years ago, UMHA began to collaborate with a housing consultant, LeBeau Development LLC, to assist the organization on their endeavors (all thanks to Enterprise Community Partners who provided technical assistance grants). And as a result of this collaboration, a Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) development was cultivated to meet the needs of tribal members who could not otherwise be housed.

Breaking Housing History

For the first time, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe partnered with the State of Colorado to foster a permanent supportive housing development. With a $871,014 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), a $250,000 Housing Opportunity Fund investment from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and 11 project-based vouchers provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the development is now in the process of being built and UMHA has plans to open it in December 2017. The following is quoted from the original press release announcing the project:

 "'We have come together with the state to address a critical issue facing our community. Working with a broad group of partners and supporters in this endeavor we have the opportunity to transform the lives of individuals and families in crisis and put them on the road to stability,' said JoAnn Lemmon, Director of the Ute Mountain Housing Authority."

The South Towaoc Supportive Housing development will consist of 10 units for Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Members and other Ute Mountain Ute residents who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness and earning at or less than 30% of the area median income. The housing development will combine affordable housing, culturally appropriate supportive services and on-site case management based on the Housing First and Harm Reduction principles. Services will be provided by Ute Mountain Ute Department of Social Services, Recidivism Initiative, Ute Mountain Ute Counseling & Treatment Department, Vocational Rehabilitation, Recreations Department and other local entities.

 “'This project respects tribal sovereignty while creating an affordable community where residents can access behavioral health and counseling services in order to lead healthy and productive lives,' said Irv Halter, executive director of DOLA." Excerpt from press release.

The South Towaoc Supportive Housing project will have a laundry facility, parking lot and an office for providing services. The homes will have basic furnishings.

"'We all need a safe place to call home,' said Gov. John Hickenlooper. 'This historic project represents a significant milestone in the state’s ongoing commitment to provide more humane and cost-effective interventions for vulnerable populations. This allows us to better reduce the utilization of emergency services while improving educational, employment, and health outcomes.'" Excerpt from press release.

My Work as a VISTA

As a VISTA, I have been in charge of project management for the PSH development - including coordinating meetings and phone calls between our partners, generating necessary documents, being the intermediary between UMHA and local service providers, assisting in the application dispersal process and move-in process. Additionally, my responsibilities have expanded to assist border towns of the reservation in pursuing additional PSH developments.

While I only have one month left of my service, I proudly reflect on the progress of the South Towaoc Supportive Housing development and the professional development I have gained throughout this process. This VISTA service has allowed me to learn about unique challenges facing housing in Indian Country, engage in solutions and ignite my passion to continue to make a difference.

“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Chayse Romero is a Cultural and Climate Tribal Resilience VISTA member with Ute Mountain Housing Authority.