Historic Samaritan House invites public to anniversary events
By Roxanne King
There’s the 26-year-old college graduate who moved to Denver from St. Louis at his father’s invitation. Unfortunately, his dad’s landlord told him he couldn’t stay more than two weeks. With nowhere else to go, Orlandis Barge was homeless.
He found shelter at Catholic Charities’ Samaritan House and was back on his feet in two months.
“I’ve never experienced homelessness before,” Barge said. “It was humbling.”
His is one face, one story among the 2,250 individuals the Denver shelter serves annually, providing a hot meal, shelter and resources to help the homeless become self-sufficient. This is the 30th year Samaritan House carries out that act of mercy.
“Serving Jesus Christ by serving others is at the heart of our many ministries,” Larry Smith, CEO of Catholic Charities noted in a column. “At Samaritan House in downtown Denver, we put more than 350 people to bed each night, amounting to more than 125,000 nights of shelter a year.
“[We] provide,” he continued, “not just a place for those experiencing homelessness to sleep, but a way to get back on their feet, to regain their
dignity, self-reliance and self-respect; to become contributors to society. And hopefully, to give back to others.”
Samaritan House’s impressive numbers show it’s achieving its goals: last year, 226 of its residents found employment, 91 percent of its single residents left with an income source and 67 percent of its families left with housing as did 64 percent of its single residents.
Numbers, however, don’t tell the full story of how the help offered at Samaritan
House changes people’s lives and gives them hope for the future.
“Now I try to help those who are homeless,” Barge said, referring to his part-time job at one of the other four shelters run by Catholic Charities. He also works as an engineer at a global communications firm.
“I’d like to get into hydraulic engineering, which I studied at the University of Missouri-St. Louis,” Barge said. “Someday I’d like to find the girl of my dreams and start a family.”
Capuchin Father Michael Suchnicki, chaplain of Samaritan House for 20 years, said Barge’s desire for the American dream is true of most homeless.
“They are thankful they’re here, but they want their own place,” he said.
When Samaritan House opened on Nov. 22, 1986, it made history as the first building in the nation designed to be a homeless shelter. It quickly became a model for what a home” for the homeless could be.
The roots of the shelter, however, started three years earlier when a bitter winter and oil bust in Denver forced hundreds into homelessness. Moved by their plight, Denver’s champion of the homeless, Monsignor C.B. Woodrich, affectionately called “Father Woody,” opened the doors of Holy Ghost Church downtown to provide refuge on cold
Archbishop James Casey responded to the need for homeless housing by converting the old Central Catholic High School into a shelter for 175 men, women and children. Named Samaritan Shelter, it drew local and national media attention when it opened to full
capacity on Nov. 8, 1983.
Aware the recycled building was inadequate, the goal to build a larger, more dignified home for the displaced was realized when the Denver Archdiocese got an $8.5 million windfall for air rights and land behind Holy Ghost Church and used the money to buy
property near Lawrence Street and 23rd Avenue. The site became the new location for present-day Samaritan House. The handsome brick structure with a chapel and landscaped courtyard includes separate dorms for men and women, family rooms and overflow space.
Samaritan House’s services are still critically needed: 6,130 men, women and children across the Denver metro area identified as homeless in January 2015, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. Samaritan House currently provides nearly 25 percent of shelter housing available to families.
In addition to providing a warm bed, hot meal and spiritual support residents are helped to self-sufficiency through job assistance, money management and case management. They can stay for up to four months.
To celebrate Samaritan House’s anniversary and support its mission, Catholic Charities is inviting the public to upcoming benefit events, including summer pilgrimage walks and shelter tours, and a gala “Sam’s Supper” set Sept. 10. Events culminate when Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila rededicates the shelter Dec. 10.
“Samaritan House was created to show mercy and restore dignity to those who don’t have a place to live,” Smith said. “We’ve been here 30 years and we plan to be here as long as we’re needed.”
Each Year at Samaritan House:
125,000-plus shelter nights provided
455,000 meals served
2,250 individuals served
A LOOK BACK ON SAMARITAN HOUSE
1983: A bitter winter and oil bust forces hundreds onto the streets, living on building
exhaust grates and dumpsters. Father Woody, pastor of Holy Ghost Parish, opens the doors to homeless seeking refuge from the cold. The priest appears on local and national
media advocating for the poor.
NOV. 1983: Archbishop James Casey of Denver converts the old Central Catholic High
School into a shelter—it’s filled on opening night.
1984: The shelter is inadequate to meet the needs of a growing number of homeless in Denver. Archbishop Casey uses funds from the sale of a lot behind Holy Ghost Parish to build a new shelter near Lawrence Street and 23rd Avenue.
JULY 1985: Construction crews break ground on the new building.
NOV. 1986: The new Samaritan House shelter in Denver opens its door. It makes
history as the fi rst new building in America designed
Read the story on the Denver Catholic website.