Tyler Wells is still getting used to the comforts of a home: a hot shower whenever he wants, a warm bed, a dog waiting by the door.
The 26-year-old battled drug addiction and homelessness in his youth after dropping out of an Aurora high school during his senior year and getting diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder — a mental health condition that includes symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorder.
The young man was in and out of rehabilitation centers, homeless shelters and tents on Denver’s streets for years until a friend’s overdose provided the wake-up call he needed. Wells has been sober since Jan. 2, 2019, and found housing and rent assistance months later with the help of Volunteers of America’s Permanent Supportive Housing Program.
“I now have the ability to go back to a nice, cozy place and that means everything,” Wells said. “It’s an incentive to get a good job, to stay sober, to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Volunteers of America, on top of hunger services and other support, offers housing programs directed at youth experiencing homelessness in Colorado, said Lindi Sinton, the organization’s vice president of programs.
The Youth Transitional Program serves youth without homes between the ages of 18 to 24 for up to two years. The program helps young people in need find housing wherever makes sense for them — near family, jobs or child care — managed by landlords who work with the Volunteers of America case managers, Sinton said.
Volunteers of America
Address: 2660 Larimer St., Denver, CO 80205
In operation since: 1896
Number of employees: 378
Annual budget: $29.4 million
Number of clients served in 2020: 154,243
The program starts off paying a client’s entire rent and decreases payments by 25% over set intervals that allow the young person to get back on their feet with help from Volunteers of America to find jobs, get health support and learn life skills.
“We’ve all had the chance to fall down and get back up in our parents’ home, so we expect folks to have a lot of challenges and we give them multiple chances,” Sinton said. “It’s hard not to succeed in these programs.”
Wells is involved in the Volunteers of America’s Permanent Supportive Housing Program, which takes youth up to 25 years old who meet the criteria of experiencing longer-term homelessness or suffering from a disabling condition.
Clients in Permanent Supportive Housing have a voucher allowing them to stay in their Volunteers of America housing situation for as long as they need with access to more intensive services Sinton said. Those in Permanent Supportive Housing pay 30% of their income in rent and the rest is subsidized by the organization.
Volunteers of America serves about 20 to 30 young adults at a time in its shorter-term Youth Transitions Program and can support 33 clients in the Permanent Supportive Housing Program.
“Housing is an important part, but definitely not the most important part when it comes to youth,” Sinton said. “The services we offer are really what help with success.”
The services are individualized based on the client’s needs, ranging from parenting skills to budgeting classes to cooking courses or advice on understanding employer expectations, Sinton said.
In addition to his Federal Heights apartment, Wells was connected with classes for addiction recovery and mental health supports through the Volunteers of America.
“Sobriety is hard, but all addiction does is take from you, and sobriety gives to you every day,” Wells said. “It is possible and rewarding to be sober.”
On Monday, Wells and Keynon Tann, associate manager over Volunteers of America’s youth programming, huddled around a computer at the organization’s Bannock Youth Center in Denver to research GED courses so Wells can finish his education, enroll in college courses and work toward his dream career of becoming a video editor.
“I am setting myself up for success,” Wells said.
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