Denver Rescue Mission is thrilled to announce we’ve been awarded a 17-month grant by Denver Human Services to launch a new Peer Navigator Collaborative. The Peer Navigators, who have personally experienced homelessness and successfully transitioned into housing, will engage with guests entering our shelter system for the first time. Through this peer-to-peer relationship, they will help reduce barriers to housing, connect people to service providers and assist with referrals to area agencies—all with the end goal of creating a pathway out of homelessness for people who come to us for help.

We sat down with Jordan Smith, the Mission’s new Peer Navigator Program Manager, to learn more:

How will the Peer Navigators be working with our guests?

Good question. Before I started doing this work, I had no idea what a Peer Navigator was. To put it simply, Peer Navigators are just that, they are peers. The main differences between a Peer Navigator and a traditional employee is that Peer Navigators have lived experience in the field they are working in and their primary goal is to build supportive relationships with clients. So, in our case, our Peer Navigators have lived experience with homelessness, and not only have they experienced it, they have successfully navigated out of it and are now in housing and living productive, self-sufficient lives. The main goals for Peer Navigators are always to build rapport and establish trust and support with guests. Which, I think when you hear someone say something like that, it can come off as fluffy and without substance because those things aren’t measurable. But for our community of people experiencing homelessness, providing a sense of relationship and support are often the first sparks toward helping people realize that not only do they have worth and an identity apart from their situation, but they also have the capability to pursue goals. Our Peer Navigators will sit down and ask people, “hey, what’s an achievable goal you have that we can work on together?” Some of those goals are short-term, like obtaining an ID, applying for supplemental security income or getting connected to mental health care. But for many of the people we serve, their long-term goal is ultimately getting off the street and out of the shelter system. That’s why we have also put together a plan for our Peer Navigators to achieve measurable outcomes centered on engaging people who are new to homelessness and creating paths toward housing.

Which of our locations will they be working at?

To start, Peer Navigators will be mobilized at the Lawrence Street Community Center and 48th Street Center.

What does it mean for us to be the lead agency for this grant?

I’ve already had the opportunity to meet with all the organizations involved in this grant, both individually and as a team, and I’ve been amazed at the heart and insight that we bring to the table. As far as being the lead agency, in terms of responsibility and actual day-to-day work, it means a lot. It means we get to set the goals, objectives and tone for the collaboration. And I think collaboration is key. In order for us to be successful with this program, it will require collaboration with Catholic Charities, St. Francis Center, Urban Peak, and the City of Denver. When it comes down to it, we all want the same thing—we want to create pathways out of homelessness and into housing for people in need. This collaboration takes us, as a city, one step closer to doing that.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention about this grant?

We’re honored to be awarded the grant. There are only a few cities in America that utilize Peer Navigators to support people experiencing homelessness. It’s going to help us reach those people who are new to homelessness and the shelter system. Often, new people have no idea what to do or where to go. This grant allows us to engage with those individuals quicker and more relationally, giving them resources, guidance, direction, and referrals to partner agencies, and ultimately, find them pathways into housing—that’s the goal.

The Power of Peers: Mission Lands New Peer Navigator Collaborative Grant 1

Bio: Jordan is the Peer Navigator Program Manager for Denver Rescue Mission. He is also a husband, a sports fan and a resident of what he believes is the coolest city in America—Denver, Colorado. He believes in the power of stories, relationships and community to inspire positive change.