Last week, Robbie Goldman had dinner plans with a close friend. Reservations weren’t an issue, nor was parking, as they would be meeting under a bridge downtown – his friend’s current place of residence. I think the shock must have showed across my face when I heard Goldman’s plans for the night, as it puts a face to the widespread homelessness in our city. Goldman explained that while his friend had a job at 7/11 working 35 hours per week – so bringing in just over $1000 per month – he could barely afford food let alone a place to live.
Meet Robbie Goldman, one of the founders of Dry Bones, a nonprofit serving homeless and street-connected youth in Denver. In the hour that we spoke, Goldman subsequently erased almost every stereotype I unknowingly had regarding the homeless population. The first? Like his friend in the story above, many individuals we see on a daily basis hold jobs, yet find themselves without a permanent home each night. Some might have a relative to stay with, or the occasional couch to crash on, but nothing stable. Nothing that is their own.
Homelessness is a consistent problem across Metro Denver, one without a clear solution or end date. Dry Bones, which has operated in Denver for 16 years now, has seen the rise and fall of the homeless population over the years. While the numbers of very young adolescents (12 – 15) has decreased, Goldman explained that his organization still works with well over 1,000 youth each year. As homeless youth remains a critical issue in our city, the stigma behind homelessness remains. Goldman said that the association many people attach to homeless individuals is detrimental to their self-identity.
“You just want to be safe, and people don’t realize that,” Goldman said. “People have really criminalized the homeless. This is what we battle a lot, as we have kids who go through homelessness and just feel like they are a criminal.”
Dry Bones is unique in their approach towards helping teens and young adults cope with their current living situations. Unlike many organizations that focus on programming, classes and the like, Goldman says that for Dry Bones, building lasting relationships is their priority. Dry Bones first started as a faith based organization offering friendship and a place for young adults to feel a sense of belonging. As Dry Bones grew, so did its mission. Today, the organization hosts regular events such as backpacking trips, Denver outings and meals for their youth.
“People that are typically very helpful are not in their lives for long, and only offer temporary programs,” Goldman explained. “They never seem to see much consistency. So we strove to give them a familiar face.”
In recent years, Dry Bones has also helped encourage and facilitate employment for homeless youth. Almost four years ago, Dry Bones helped launch Purple Door Coffee, a nonprofit café dedicated to providing young adults who have been or currently are homeless. The coffee shop provides a 52-week training course that teaches practical skills as well basic life skills. But Dry Bones doesn’t stop there, as they know that many of their youth won’t land their first job. This type of defeat is especially challenging to homeless youth, so Dry Bones works to improve various skills to encourage youth and aid them in future job interviews.
“We see a lot of defeated persons,” Goldman explained. “When you know you are in your 20’s and the only job you are looking at is minimum wage. How do you get past that?”
Today, Dry Bones is housed in Urban Land Conservancy’s Mountain View Nonprofit Tower at the corner of 16th and Downing. This is a prime location for Dry Bones, as the building is in close proximity to downtown, which is convenient for many of their homeless youth. Goldman explained that the building’s affordability and consistency were also huge incentives, as the organization needs a stable office space for years to come – and finding that type of space without a hefty price tag is challenging. Dry Bones was able to rent the entire 4th floor, and has settled in nicely! It has been a pleasure to work with their organization this year, and we look forward to our relationship moving forward!
To keep up to date with Dry Bones, you can check out their website here. They will be hosting their yearly fundraiser in November, plus a new campaign this September called the “urban camp-a-thon” to increase awareness for individuals who sleep outside each night. Make sure to keep up with Dry Bones via their website and social media for more information!