By Marc Cowell, executive director of the OUR Center in Longmont.
Having worked in community support and outreach in many different capacities throughout my career, I have learned many things over these sometimes challenging, but always rewarding, years. I have learned that circumstances don’t define a person, that a simple gesture of support can literally change the course of someone’s life, and that helping one another is one of the greatest gifts we can give.
At OUR Center our goal is to help people move toward self-sufficiency. What that means for each individual and family that come to OUR Center — and the steps to get there — can mean many different things. Things like getting a job or receiving a hand up to remain stable during a time of crises. We work with people throughout the St Vrain Valley to help them create a plan that coordinates those next steps, each one pointing them in a direction of better health, stability, and security.
One of the most crucial elements of self-sufficiency is housing. Many of the people we see at OUR Center are faced with some impossible decisions: should I pay my electric bill or make a trip to the grocery store? Should I skip lunch today so that I can pay for my prescribed medications? But what I have seen time and again is that having a safe, warm, and secure place to call home makes having to deal with these difficult questions easier to tackle.
Sadly, the fact is that every day the OUR Center works with many individuals and families who simply don’t have access to and cannot attain that very basic of human necessities: a home. The stress this brings is overwhelming and often paralyzing. To say that not being able to afford a place to live is emotionally, spiritually, and financially taxing is an understatement.
The OUR Center is committed to preventing homelessness and working with those organizations and community groups with the same goal. That’s why the OUR Center is a partner and supports Prosper Longmont, a coalition of residents, businesses, and civic leaders representing a cross-section of the community who have come together to bring a collective voice to the critical issue of attainable housing in Longmont. By collaborating with organizations like Prosper Longmont and others, we are helping to create a future where we as individuals and our community are stronger.
This group began its work at the end of 2021, and we are impressed with the changes it has already been able to make. We share their passion and mission to help our community and to make Longmont a desirable — and affordable — place to live. But the reality is that we are in a housing crisis here in Longmont and the work is far from done. According to Prosper Longmont, housing costs now exceed most of our workers’ ability to buy homes. Median home prices are now beyond what a growing share of local workers can afford and continue to appreciate at an unprecedented rate. And further, current policies that restrict housing supply have created an environment in which home prices continue to outpace income levels.
Because the truth is that a home — whether large or small — is often the foundation for stability, sustainability, and ultimately, success. A home is something that makes the here and now easier, but it is also the place from which you can see the future, the place where you can feel hope and optimism. The solution to this complex issue will require a full community effort, and I ask that you learn as much as you can about the issue and join the OUR Center, Prosper Longmont, and other safety net providers as we work together to support housing initiatives that are grounded in equity, accessibility, and opportunity for all.