DENVER (CBS4)– A growing program employing formerly homeless people at the Denver Public Library is helping the homeless to get off the streets and find work. Peer navigators in the library’s community resource office are recovering from their own homelessness, addiction and mental health issues.
The program’s four peer navigators work under the direction of four social workers whom the library employs. Demand for the assistance is growing, as hundreds of people in need seek program resources every month.
“I just try to do good stuff. Good choices,” said Trevor Miller, a program participant struggling with homelessness.
Miller’s navigator, Cuica Montoya, is working to help him find stable housing and work.
“Cuica is a person who took me under her wing to try to help me,” Miller said. “I’ve just been doing good ever since.”
Montoya loves her job advocating for the vulnerable population. But her work is not just a job. For Montoya, the mission is personal.
“I’ve definitely sat across from a couple people that I feel like I’m looking into a mirror of my past,” Montoya told CBS4’s Melissa Garcia.
At a point in her past, Montoya said that she had struggled with homelessness, substance abuse and mental health challenges. As a navigator, she calls upon her own life experience to help others.
“That’s where the magic happens, is when somebody comes in asking for help and needing resources. I can sit down and say ‘Hey, I get it,’” she said.
Peer navigator duties include assisting library customers during program drop-in hours, approaching visitors to identify those who might need help, and connecting people in need with resources for jobs, food and housing.
Chris Henning, communications manager for the Denver Public Library, said the social worker team also trains other library staff members on how to improve their interactions with homeless visitors.
“They are here to make connections with customers and help them better help themselves to work with the social service system,” Henning said.
For its 2019 budget, the city has approved the hire of two additional peer navigators to expand the program.