By Sarah Ford
After seven months, CitySquare reopened in April with a full docket of new services.
The roughly 1,500 square-foot space at 2575 S. Broadway has been modified and changed from its previous role as a food pantry. CitySquare now offers its guests opportunities for physical and mental health services, public benefits, lockers to store items during the day, computer access, and even the opportunity to own a new bike.
“I was excited to have a one-stop shop, an opportunity center,” said executive director Jessica Luem. “My hope was to fulfill a lot of services under one roof, and if not, to give [guests] transportation to go acquire those services.”
So far, the vision is a success. Since reopening, Luem says 512 “neighbors” (service users) have walked through CitySquare’s doors.
The organization is partnering with Stout Street Clinic, Denver Human Services, DenverWorks, and several other high-profile metro area organizations.
Most popular among their new programs, Luem says, is the bike sharing program. Guests are able to enter a lottery for one of the dozens of bicycles available each week, which they can keep or return at their convenience. If the bike has mechanical problems, guests are welcome to bring it back and have it repaired.
It’s a fundamental service Luem says helps a wide spectrum, not just those who are housing unstable. Recently, a mother of a woman undergoing cancer treatment came from Texas and entered the lottery so she could have a way to visit her daughter and accomplish day-to-day responsibilities.
“It fills the needs of so many different people with so many different stories,” Luem says.
While CitySquare was long valued as a food pantry where people could go and shop for their own food with the help of volunteers, the new services have brought a much wider variety of clients, largely through word-of-mouth.
“It’s a real ripple effect within the community,” Luem says.
As services have expanded, Luem says the organization has seen more people coming not just for services, but to enjoy the community of a central service provider in an underserviced area, situated comfortably between Denver and Englewood.
“We’re creating a community where people can recognize faces and remember names,” Luem says.
Luem says CitySquare’s development, while rapidly growing in popularity, is not done yet. Services will remain stable through this summer as clients and staff adjust. However, Luem says she is looking to expand service options as soon as fall.
Soon she hopes to partner with service providers who can further assist CitySquare “neighbors” with finding affordable housing, and eventually legal services.
For now, Luem wants to focus on the services already available and ensure they run smoothly through the next several months. While some of those are seemingly basic provisions, such as mail services or having lockers available, Luem recognizes that some of the simplest services can be the most important. With more ease of access for those who are most housing unstable, services that seem like basic provisions on the surface can make all the difference in today’s climate.
“When they did those sweeps downtown, it put people up in arms,” she says. “Now, people are looking at more solutions.”
She hopes the new services at CitySquare can become a part of that matrix, helping a re-envisioning of services for those experiencing homelessness and poverty.
“I feel the winds of change,” Luem says. ■