DENVER (CBS4) - The Denver Rescue Mission has launched a new program that's meant to build relationships and trust with those living on the streets. It's called the Peer Navigator Program, and people who were previously homeless can help others find the path to permanent housing.
"It kind of just feels like it was meant to be," explained Lisa Valdez, a peer navigation coordinator at the Denver Rescue Mission. "Rebuilding your life is never easy. It takes a long time. But with good support and people who truly care, it can be done."
Valdez and her coworker, Keri Stiller, are both on the Peer Navigator team. The program was launched in Fall of 2019, thanks for a 17-month grant by Denver Human Services. The ideas is that those who have personally experienced homelessness and have successfully transitioned into housing can help those in the shelter connect to the resources they need, to do the same.
Keri Stiller told CBS4 she was homeless for four years.
"I slept under a bridge in Boulder and through that I got into a lot of legal trouble and ended up on Denver drug court," she explained. "That was actually one of my saving graces."
Stiller says through that, she found a sober living program and a job that linked her up with others who helped her get clean.
"Just kind of having like a community and network of people I could rely on is what got me through," she said.
Now, that's what she and Valdez do every day. They help people in various ways, like helping someone get an ID so they can apply for jobs, or getting them the mental health care they need. Stiller said it's all about using her experience with homelessness as a way to connect with others.
"I share a bit of my story and then I notice that creates trust and they start to tell me a little bit more," she said. "And then I'm able to navigate what resources they truly need."
In just a few months, program leaders say it has helped more than 200 homeless individuals. Valdez said if they show others they overcame the struggle, others are encouraged to as well.
"We're living proof that it can be done," Valdez said. "We can overcome it."
You can support the Denver Rescue Mission through CBS4's Spread the Warmth campaign. A donation of $10 pays for one night of shelter, and three meals for one client. In addition to cash, the Rescue Mission is accepting donations of new socks, underwear, and warm weather clothing.
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