Catholic Charities of Central Colorado plans to expand its services for the indigent by combining operations of an existing nonprofit counseling center and bringing on a full-time medical clinic for low-income and homeless residents at its Marian House campus at 14 W. Bijou St. in downtown Colorado Springs.
“In working with the poor and vulnerable, we want to be upstream, preventative and ahead of some of the issues that lead to homelessness and extreme poverty,” said Catholic Charities’ President and CEO Andy Barton.
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The agency will accomplish its goals by merging with Franciscan Community Counseling, a 25-year-old therapy practice, and by remodeling part of the Marian House for SET Family Medical Clinics to relocate from its current location on South Circle Drive.
When the new projects are finished, the site will provide a complete “medical home model” that addresses mental, physical and social health in a way that’s new to Colorado Springs, said Dr. Meagan Jones, medical director at SET Family Medical Clinics, a program of Centura Health, which runs Penrose-St. Francis Health Services.
“This is really a unique opportunity to provide services to reduce long-term health concerns and homelessness, and resources for social aid in one location,” she said.
The Marian House, known for serving hundreds of free meals daily at its soup kitchen, providing free groceries for 230 households a month, and assisting people with employment, housing and mail service, has provided limited mental health counseling and medical care for homeless families and individuals.
Expanding both will address system gaps, Barton said.
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“We know vulnerable populations have a breakdown in their physical and/or mental health and that is exacerbated by some of the social issues that come with losing housing or employment or not having access to healthy food,” he said. “We think if we can bring all of those together under one roof, we’ll be able to help people achieve sustainability more healthily.”
SET Family Medical Clinics, which serves homeless, uninsured and underinsured residents, was started in 1990 by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and for the past decade has operated out of the Phoenix Tower at 2864 S. Circle Drive.
Also for 10 years, the clinic has provided medical care for two hours a day at the Marian House soup kitchen.
The existing clinic will vacate its office and relocate to the Marian House permanently, after it raises $1.5 million to remodel the second floor of the Marian House into a health clinic, Jones said. Fundraising is being done through the Penrose-St. Francis Hospital Foundation.
The new location will be open to the community at-large, she said, with primary care, prescriptions, X-rays, lab work, dental care, hepatitis C treatment and addiction management for free or at reduced fees based on income.
Moving has been planned for three years, Jones said, but the pandemic waylaid the project.
“The number of Medicaid and uninsured patients has increased greatly,” she said, “and we have seen a huge need for services with more people moving to the downtown area.”
Catholic Charities will merge with Franciscan Community Counseling as of July 1, Barton said. The Sisters of St. Francis of Colorado Springs started the nonprofit in 1987 to provide counseling, psychological testing and programs that promote emotional, mental, social, physical and spiritual wellness.
Barton said the counseling center will retain its name and offices at Mount St. Francis, a monastery in northwest Colorado Springs. Existing clients will see no changes, and clients at the Marian House will have access to the four additional therapists.
“For us, the difference will be what we’re able to achieve by combining and streamlining and gaining efficiencies in size,” Barton said.
Catholic Charities used federal pandemic-relief funding to add a licensed clinical social worker and also has a licensed counselor on staff, he said.
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“As the pandemic was coming to an end, in addition to severe mental illness and addiction issues we’ve always seen in the population we serve, our frontline staff started seeing a huge increase in anxiety and depression among the folks we were serving,” Barton said. “Folks that had before the pandemic felt more resilient had lost some of that and were really struggling.”
Allyson Warner Orozco, a licensed clinical social worker and behavioral health specialist with Catholic Charities, said she’s glad that Marian House clients will no longer need to be referred to outside agencies for mental health care.
Since the onset of COVID-19 nearly three years ago, some parents and individuals who are homeless or on the verge of losing stable housing have been reporting depression, isolation and a sense of hopelessness, she said.
As a result, more people are seeking assistance with panic attacks and thoughts of killing themselves, Warner Orozco said.
“We already see people with such complex trauma, whether they’re experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, general financial hardship,” she said. “They go into survival mode — whether it’s flight, fight or freeze — and people get stuck in those behaviors.”
She works on building skills to help people deal with such situations, but said they can get lost in the shuffle of being referred to other providers for treatment.
The news of further expansion at Catholic Charities comes just weeks after the organization announced it had purchased a former elementary school campus and intends to convert the oldest building on the property into apartments for homeless families.
Connecting mental and physical health care with social services such as food and housing increases the ability to not only handle adverse life situations but overcome them, Warner Orozco said.
“When you’re in survival mode, it’s hard to reap the benefits of therapy,” she said. “When we can link people to housing and then therapeutic services, true healing can occur.”