Moving Forward

On November 9th, I awoke and did not want to get out of bed. To be honest, with several weeks passing, I am only now beginning to be able to process the news without a feeling of deep depression. I am trying to sort out my own perspective.

There are so many responses. I’ve seen deep seated resignation with an underlying sentiment of disappointment – “I knew it all along, of course this was the only outcome.” I’ve seen others invigorated, saying “we’ve been here before and know how to fight” or “this is our call to come together in action.” I’ve seen us attacking each other for being too progressive, for not being progressive enough, for taking action, for not taking action. I’ve seen us bringing together our constituencies and trying to make sense of this separately and together. I’ve seen us obsessing over each new element of news, each new statement and each new appointment. I’ve seen us avoiding avoiding news altogether, trying to pretend this did not occur.

As the white leader of an organization focused on racial and economic equity, I often struggle with whether I should be in this role for Mile High Connects. I am also reminded that it is imperative that as a white person, I use my privilege and the access that I have as a result of that privilege to tackle social inequities. These election results and the role that people who are white played in this outcome mean that is true today more than any other.

This one thing I am sure of is that Mile High Connects stands with and values communities who are most under attack. We will continue to fight for protections of civil rights and for protections and supports for those who are disadvantaged. We will stand with immigrants and refugees, with people of color, with people of all sexual and gender identities, with women, with people who are poor, with people who speak other languages and those worship in a variety of ways. We will use our resources and our power to continue to drive toward equity in our region and our nation.

Let us come together. Let us build power together. Let us show compassion together. Let us lift up justice today and every day.

MHC Updates

Affordable Fares 

In the course of longer-term campaigns, there are always periods of time where the detail work needs to get done and the public face gets a little quieter. For Mile High Connects and the Affordable Fares Task Force, we are in just such a moment. After productive continued meetings with RTD senior leadership team members in January, March and April, the Task Force is working through the more specific nuances of formalizing partnership with agencies already conducting means testing to provide income-qualification for the program, as well as continued work to secure external resources to match the anticipated foregone fare revenue for RTD at the program’s launch. We anticipate this work to continue throughout the summer months and invite all who are interested in this part of the conversation to join us as we work through the many technical, technology and policy components.

Meanwhile, conversations about adding a transit benefit to the MyDenver, card issued to thousands of DPS students each year, are picking up steam. While there is still much to explore, there is good energy around addressing the transportation affordability challenges for Denver youth, as it relates both to school choice and to supporting youth employment, internships, after school programs and other things that relate to overall well-being.


First and Last Mile Connections & Accessible Transit

Since March, the Montebello Organizing Committee (MOC) has worked closely with a group of key community stakeholders convened by Denver City Councilwoman-at-Large Debra Ortega to create a new bus stop that will take the place of the former Park-and-Ride near Peoria Street and Allbrook Street. The primary goal of the group was to ensure that the bus stop is safe and accessible to local riders. In addition to MOC and members of Councilwoman Ortega’s staff, the group included representatives of RTD, Denver Public Works, Denver District 11 City Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, Denver Police Department District 5, Denver Fire Department Station 27, and Mile High Connects.

As a result of this work, Denver Public Works has identified several actions that it will take immediately, as well as mid- and longer-term actions to improve pedestrian safety, traffic flow and emergency vehicle access. In addition, RTD will conduct a point check at the new bus stop to count the number of pedestrians crossing the street to use RTD service. The success of the project demonstrates the effectiveness of a strong collaborative process and commitment to its goals by all members of the group.

Community Member Highlight – Terry Liggins, Montbello Community Leader

Terry Liggins is the Executive Director of Bennie E. Goodwin After School Program, which is located in Aurora, Colorado, but her heart and home reside in the Far Northeast Denver neighborhood of Montbello, where she has lived with her family for more than 15 years.

“A friend and mentor, Rich Male, approached me regarding some work around possible gentrification issues in the Montbello neighborhood,” Terry says. “He knew I lived in Montbello and thought I might be helpful in working with others to determine solutions. Once I found out the work that needed to be done, I knew I had to help.”

That was three years ago and Terry has since been involved, developing her strength as a leader with the Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC), a Mile High Connects grantee organization that works to engage Montbello community members and provide them with tools to develop grassroots leadership skills to address issues that affect their quality of life. MOC currently works with residents on task teams to address three main issues: retail and economic development, community enhancement, and transportation. Terry co-leads the Transportation Task Team (T3). To date the efforts of MOC have led to the cessation of service route changes that would have obstructed residents’ direct access to and from the only grocery store in the neighborhood. Additionally partnerships with council representatives have let to sidewalk and bus stop infrastructure improvements. Much more is in the works.

“I would like to see transit decisions on the community level be a more collaborative effort between RTD, city officials, and residents. I would also like to see decision makers be more proactive vs. reactive to local community needs around transit,” Terry says.

Why does Terry feel so passionately about Montbello? Perhaps it’s because it reminds her of “home.” “I really enjoy the diversity in people, housing, culture, economic status. It feels more like how the world should be. It also reminds me of the small community where I was raised in Pittsburgh—a neighborhood that consist of African American, Italians, Polish, Asians and more. We dined together, went to school together, went to church together, and played sports together. Sometimes thing went well and sometimes they didn’t, but at the end of the day we were still neighbors and friends.”

From her three years as a community advocate, activist, and resident leader she says that she’s learned that communication, flexibility, patience, and resilience are key. “Most of all I’ve learned to be a better ‘listener’, she says. “It’s vital to hear the voice of the community.”

MOC logo

Terry Liggns

Terry Liggins, Montbello Community Leader

MHC Updates

MHC Grant Fund

We are excited to release our funding guidelines for the Equitable Initiatives in The Denver Region grant fund for 2016. The deadline for applications is June 1, 2016, 5:00 MT.

We will offer two grant application workshops in 2016. Workshops are open to organizations and groups interested in learning more about the application process; please note that attending a grant workshop is not a requirement of the overall grant application process. Please RSVP to Davian Gagne, Grants & Operations Manager at dgagne@denverfoundation.org with your name and contact information of staff members interested in attending, and indicate which workshop you would like to attend.

  • Wednesday, April 20, 2016 | 10:00 am – 12:00 pm | United Church of Montbello | 4879 Crown Blvd., Denver
  • Thursday, May 5, 2016 | 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm | UFCW Union Hall | 7760 West 38th Ave., Wheat Ridge

Affordable Housing & Community Facilities

The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) has hired Beth Truby into a new Preservation Program Manager position. The program manager will work closely with CHFA staff and external stakeholders to develop a long term strategy and action plan for identifying, prioritizing, and preserving critical affordable housing units statewide. This position will serve as a connection with the Preservation Working Group (CHFA, HUD, DOH, DHA, City of Denver, Enterprise, the Piton Foundation, and Mile High Connects) and other key housing stakeholders working on specific preservation activities and transactions.  Beth brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and relationships to this role, having previously worked for the City of Denver for over 25 years managing a variety of community development and housing programs. MHC is thrilled to have Beth in this role and is grateful to CHFA for its commitment to preserving affordable housing.

First & Last Mile Connections

As communities work to solve issues related to transit, it becomes incumbent to engage with a variety of partners. Even a seemingly “simple” problem may require the participation of many different groups to arrive at a satisfactory, comprehensive solution. As Montebello residents wrestle with the closure of the existing Park and Ride near Peoria Street and Allbrook Street, many different factors come into play as RTD makes a decision about where to locate the new bus stop. Chief among these are how to provide the most efficient service to neighborhood residents who depend on this stop to access the transit service on which they depend while ensuring their safety. Other factors include pedestrian safety and accessibility, crime deterrence, traffic management and adequate access for safety vehicles. In an effort to encourage collaboration among all interests in addressing as many of these concerns as possible, Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega convened a meeting of major stakeholders including Montbello Organizing Committee members, RTD, Denver Police Department, staff representing City Councilwoman Stacie Gillmore, and management from the Village Apartment complex near the stop. High-level leaders from these organizations attended the meeting including RTD General Manager Dave Genova and Denver Police Department District 5 Commander Ron Thomas. A week after this meeting, members of the group met with representatives from Denver Public Works and Denver Fire Department Station 27 to discuss infrastructure problems and possible solutions. This process marks a major step in creating a solution that meets all needs. More importantly, it serves as a model for collaborative problem-solving that can serve as a model moving forward.

Affordable Fares & Meaningful Service Routes 

King County Sees Success in First Year of Affordable Fares

Last March, King County Washington and the Seattle area launched an innovative program called ORCA LIFT, one of the first comprehensive income-based fare programs in the county.

Chris Arkills, Transportation Policy Advisor to the King County Executive gave presentations to a variety of stakeholders including the Mile High Connects Advisory Council, Affordable Fares Task Force, RTD Board and staff and other interested elected officials. Said Arkills, “we built it into the cost of doing business. We’re a region that prioritizes equity and we know that it was the right thing to do.”

Among key findings at the program’s one year anniversary:

  • In February, 25,000 riders registered for the ORCA LIFT program. King County has been seeing steady growth in the program’s popularity, with approximately 2,000 more riders signing up very month.
  • 96% of program participants are satisfied with the program
  • People are using the card – there were almost 350,000 boardings by ORCA LIFT riders in February alone
  • 42% have increased ridership
  • ORCA LIFT riders are not putting additional pressure on the system by making buses and rail too crowded. Because people frequently ride during the day or work swing shifts, increases in ridership have been seen primarily at times that transit is running under capacity

 We thank Chris for joining us and providing us with such an interesting learning opportunity.

Grantee Highlight – Westwood Unidos

Westwood Unidos is a coalition of Westwood residents partnering with organizations to make Southwest Denver a healthier place. Westwood Unidos’ unique approach trains resident leaders to advocate for equitable resources, to organize their neighbors, and to increase civic engagement community-wide.  Currently, Westwood Unidos’ campaigns are to transform blighted streets and alleys into safe and active community places, to organize community to improve public transit options, to re-develop parks and build new parks, to build a Recreation Center in Westwood,  and to promote drinking water and good nutrition.  Westwood Unidos is pleased to announce the opening of “La Casita,” at 3790 Morrison Road, a community-run space that is open for residents to teach exercise, academic, and art classes and host support groups.
Thanks to funding support from Mile High Connects and strong partnership from 9to5 Colorado, Westwood Unidos has been able to provide dedicated efforts to increasing transit access in Westwood. Projects include cleaning bus benches, petitioning for new lights to be installed along walking routes, and staffing a successful campaign to reinstate an RTD bus route on Morrison Road. 9to5’s community organizing expertise and Mile High Connects funding support and strategic guidance were leveraged by Westwood Unidos’ Community Connector’s community knowledge, trust and relationships.  Community leaders participating in Westwood Unidos’ Built Environment Action Team kicked-off the campaign by conudcting hundreds of community surveys and learning that many residents had difficulty accessing jobs and food due to there not being any bus service in the middle of Westwood. Westwood Unidos’ Community Connector, Maricruz Herrera, along with Andrea Chiriboga Flor, from 9 to 5 Colorado, began a multi-month campaign to organize dozens of community residents who wanted increased bus access. These community members met with RTD decision-makers and went to RTD Board meetings to request that the bus on Morrison Road be reinstated. The community effort and persistence paid off. The new bus began service in May 2016, and it has been a success, with ridership above expectation. Due to the new bus route, community members living in the heart of Westwood now have a way to get to work, to the supermarket, and to the light rail station on Alameda using RTD.
Westwood Unidos is grateful to Mile High Connects for its commitment to transit equity in Denver, and to its support in the form of funding, research, technical assistance, advocacy and strategic thinking.
2015-04-26-bus cleanup

Community Member Highlight – Marcus Harris, Bayaud Enterprises

With every word that you are reading right now, your perception of me is changing. Look at my photo after every other sentence or so. Perception is a big deal. Captioned visual narratives are very powerful. We judge one another mercilessly based upon nothing more than perception. The story we are told about people who earn $0-13,000 per year is designed to make the rest of us feel better about ourselves, designed to give some of the more affluent among us permission to bully and demand justification, from those of us experiencing poverty and homelessness, for our insistence upon attainable housing, income-based access to public transit, dignified wages and protection from the police, for example. Years ago, in prison, in one of those moments of clarity, I saw myself as part of the Problem. An African-American male, a convicted felon, a long history of substance abuse and un(der)employment. Many of the traits that the more affluent among us have been conditioned to fear. I am currently working to provide a platform for people who lives are being impacted by economic genocide to share their stories. Stories of multiple attempts, for a single family, at relocation in the wake of gentrification. Stories from people with disabilities for whom the pursuit of employment has become more surreal because they must choose between eating or paying for public transit essential to job search. Working with, and advocating for, people dealing directly with the (political and social) hardship of poverty, homelessness, gentrification and un(der)employment, my perception of the Problem has changed radically.

It is not enough for us to just do things differently. The time has come for us to do different things.

Marucs Harris, Advisory Council Peer Organizer, Bayaud Enterprises

Co-founder/co-facilitator People Rising Against Poverty

Marucs Harris

 

Time for Sweeping Change

Last week, the city of Denver swept away problem of chronic homelessness by removing hundreds of homeless people from makeshift encampments throughout the city.  The City claims that their decision was made because of the public safety issues these encampments create for the homeless residents themselves and the public at large.  They are absolutely correct.  What the City is not prepared to address in any meaningful way is exactly where it is they would like these people to go.  The shelter directors have stated that there is not enough affordable housing or enough emergency shelter to meet the growing demand.  As a consequence, these people default to living on the streets as a last resort.  I have for the past month spent a few weeks living on the street, trust me when I say that nobody is living outside because they want to.

Rather than develop thoughtful and compassionate measures to address this crisis, the City answered with an arsenal of garbage trucks and police officers.  Denver, we can and must do better.  The City claims they are storing people’s belongings and they can access them.  That is an outright fabrication.  Try finding your personal belongings in a sea of garbage bins.  Hundreds of people have lost all of their personal belongings (including photos of their children).  The problem has temporarily disappeared from public sight but the fact remains, people have to exist somewhere.  It is our responsibility as a city to find adequate places for people to be other than the streets.

If we can build a world class light rail and airport hotel for visitors, shouldn’t we be able to provide adequate and compassionate shelter for our most disenfranchised residents.  We are urging city Denver residents, city officials, nonprofit leaders, foundation leaders, advocates and homeless residents themselves to come together to recognize that this crisis must be addressed right now in a more constructive and compassionate manner.

We hope we can join in a  concerted effort to develop the resources, plan and collaborative spirit necessary to protect the basic safety and dignity of every Denver citizen.  Everyone in our city deserves to be somewhere safe to sleep tonight.

PJ D’Amico, Executive Director

The Buck Foundation

Equity on the Hill

Prepare for the Day at the Capitol by watching this recorded webinar or reviewing this presentation.

Join us at the State Capitol to talk about health equity! Connect with legislators, organizations and community members across the state. Learn more about the Health Equity Commission and the Office of Health Equity.

What is Health Equity? What is the state of health equity and disparities in Colorado? How do we apply a health equity lens in all policies?

Community members invited to participate! A light lunch is included. Organized by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Health Equity Commission and Office of Health Equity.

RSVP at: tinyurl.com/equityonthehill by Friday, March 4, 2016.

Health equity is when all people, regardless of who they are or what they believe, have the opportunity to attain their full health potential. Achieving health equity requires valuing all people equally with focused and ongoing efforts to address inequalities.

MHC Community Member Highlight

Oscar Torres, Community Member

The chicken and the egg dilemma is very vivid for me. Two months after signing my lease in Aurora, I was hired at a nonprofit organization all the way in Lakewood. Ever since, my hour and a half (each way) commute started. Waking up at about 4:30 AM every day, I have my routine and breakfast, then walk 10 minutes to the bus stop. Typically by 6:26 AM, I hop on the first bus and then is off to Downtown where I transfer to another bus that takes me to Lakewood. Public transit in Denver is amazingly reliable and punctual, and compared to where I moved from, is 100% better. Having said that, spending 3 hours daily on my commute is taxing and takes time away from more productive activities.

Working for mpowered, a nonprofit that offers personal finance coaching among other services, I realized how transportation plays a big role in people’s budgets. Car ownership is onerous and many take the bus or light rail, but for some even that is too expensive. Housing is too. In a city with tremendous growth, rents have shot through the roof and while I consider myself appropriately paid for my work, there is no pay increase that can keep up with the rent prices. Currently, I am looking for apartments near my job that can reduce significantly my commute time, but nothing is within my price range. It has come to the point where I need to consider if I spend 50% of my income in renting or continue with my long commute. Nonetheless, I am happy serving our fellow citizens and am willing to keep going the distance, but as many other also feel, it should not be this hard.

Oscar Torres is 31 years old, lives in Aurora, Colorado and is a bilingual receptionist at mpowered in Lakewood. He moved to Colorado from Puerto Rico a year and a half ago and has a background in modern languages, communications, customer service and nonprofits.

image1 (1)                      Oscar Torres

 

MHC Grantee Highlight

Montbello Organizing Committee

The Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC) is a grassroots organization composed of residents working to positively affect the quality of life for all who live, work, or volunteer within the neighborhood. A fairly new organization, the have delved into addressing issues in three major areas. Their goal of alleviating the food desert status is catalyzed by the work to develop healthy accessible food for all residents. They are also engaging neighbors in reshaping the narrative of Montbello―often unfairly and negatively characterized―through community enhancement efforts, which include a 50th Anniversary Celebration of Montbello, later in 2016. MOC’s work addressing public transportation accessibility in Montbello led to a victory in late 2015 when RTD altered a bus route that would have made accessing the community’s only grocery store very difficult. The group recently learned that RTD is planning to close the Montbello Park and Ride on Peoria and Albrook, a highly trafficked area for pedestrians, riders, and drivers. With the closure, an increase in traffic along Peoria is anticipated (especially since Havana is closed for construction and the increase in traffic to and from DIA). An increase safety concerns is also predicted, since sidewalks are in need of maintenance and are not capable of supporting the high quantity of riders waiting for the buses. MOC, with the help of Mile High Connects, is gathering stakeholders such as riders, RTD, City Council, and Public Works to find solutions to this new challenge. ​

MOC

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