The Boulder Bridge House celebrates its 25th anniversary

Over the course of 25 years, Bridge House has changed its name and location. It recruits new general managers and adjusts its programming.

But through all these changes, Bridge House has remained simple: the organization is there to help people.

The nonprofit serves people who are homeless, largely through its mainstay called Ready to Work, a year-long program with paid work, housing, and case management support. Interns graduate with employment and permanent housing.

Although the program has a proven track record, Ready to Work has not always been part of the organization, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Bridge House started in 1997 as a day shelter called START. START later changed its name to Carriage House and operated a day shelter and kitchen in a brick house owned by the First Congregational Church.

Carriage House later merged with Community Table, a non-profit organization that provides meals to people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity.

It operated as the Carriage House Community Table before changing its name to Bridge House in 2011 when it launched its ‘jobs first’ approach to homelessness. Bridge House has expanded to Aurora and plans to open another location in Englewood soon.

Bridge House Ready to Work House and Employment Center in Boulder on November 16, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Photographer)

“We have evolved to where we are now. Really, 25 years is where we’ve come from,” said community relations manager Scott Medina. “Because of all the experience and knowledge we’ve gained, it’s kind of the best of what we’ve become.”

The program produced favorable results, with a success rate of 74%, he noted.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Medina said. “We are looking for real transformation in people’s lives that will continue after graduation. It takes time to accomplish.

Dustin Tenney knows this first hand. Tenney is a graduate of the Ready to Work program and works for the organization as a behavioral health case manager.

As someone with lived experience, Tenney is better prepared than most to build relationships with current trainees and demonstrate that a different path is doable.

“I’m a big advocate for the lived experience in the substance abuse work modality,” he said. “I think it’s vital.”

Tenney’s success was the perfect mix of timing and finding the right program for him.

“It resonated with me when it needed to resonate with me,” he said.

Despite its focus on work, Community Table Kitchen, where Medina began, is still an integral part of Bridge House.

People in the Ready to Work program either work in the kitchen under Chef John Trejo or on the outdoor team, providing additional sanitation and landscaping services to municipal and commercial clients.

Additionally, several social enterprises operate out of Bridge House: Daconias Truffle Brownies, a take-out dinner program, a catering business, and Community Table Café, an independent cafe at Boulder Community Hospital.

Years ago, Joy Redstone was executive director of the Carriage House, so she followed the evolution of Bridge House. Her time with the organization remains one of her most cherished professional experiences.

“I’m really proud of the way Bridge House has grown,” she said.

While everyone has different personal circumstances that contribute to housing insecurity, including substance abuse and mental health issues, Redstone sees homelessness as a fundamental economic issue.

“At the end of the day, if a person can get back on their feet economically, that’s a good outcome,” she said.

Redstone argues there is real benefit in providing services that help meet people’s basic needs, so she was disappointed to see Bridge House close its day shelter.

“It’s my dream that it comes back to Boulder in some form in the future,” Redstone said. “But there’s not much a single agency can do.

“Bridge House has my deepest respect for all they do for people,” she added.

Medina also referenced the lack of basic emergency services in Boulder and said Bridge House was playing a role in the city’s efforts to open one.

“We are always looking at how we can be an advocate to support all homeless people…even though we recognize that Ready to Work does not apply to all homeless people,” he said. “No program can be that.”

Thanks to Bridge House, Tenney found a family.

When he recently had surgery, his colleagues bought him Doordash gift cards and people from all departments checked on him regularly.

“The way they support you in this program, and they don’t give up, is unparalleled. It really is,” he said. “This program is my family.”

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