It all started in a 100 year old, 800 sq ft house at 707 Lipan Street back in 2003. The house was purchased by two Secular Franciscans, Larry Gosselin and Baldemar Garza, who lived in the basement of the residence full-time. After the Franciscans purchased the property, they began using it to provide showers, wash clothing, give haircuts, and feed hot breakfast 5 days a week to the homeless population of Denver. The meals were served outside in tents and even on the coldest of mornings and afternoons, the Franciscans would average 50 to 60 guests per day, sometimes reaching close to 100. In 2004, Jay Gould joined the Franciscans, eventually becoming President, and chose to live in the house full-time, as well.
A small group of us who were dedicated to carrying on Father Woody’s legacy of caring for the “least of his brothers and sisters” purchased the property at 707 Lipan Street in 2005 with the goal of erecting a larger facility. At the time, we only had 240 benefactors. With relentless optimism from our group, and support from these benefactors, we decided to move forward in hopes we would raise the money for the new building in due time. Within two years, our benefactors grew to over 1,500, which provided us with the resources necessary to complete the project. Most of our benefactors recognized what we were doing with the construction of the building. Our goal was to continue to serve our guests, and in return restore dignity within them through compassion and love.
In October 2007, the new, 5,700 sq ft facility was opened. The cost, totaling $1,500,000, was completely paid for by the time of opening day. The number guests we served rose from 50 to 60 per day, to 500 to 600. Guests continued to enjoy hot meals, breakfast and lunch, as well as private showers, reaching up to 80 per day. Additional services included internet access, mail and document safe-keeping, and the distribution of clothing, over the counter medication, and hygiene packs. We worked with outside organizations such as Denver Health to provide lung and heart testing, with additional support from Denver Human Services to assist our guests with any questions regarding food stamps, housing issues, and Medicaid. On top of these services and supports, guests were also served by volunteers who would take meals to their tables instead of having guests wait in line; a tradition we continue to execute today.
As time went on, our Board felt as though we should help our homeless community transition back into society- restoration, in other words. From there we embarked on the development and construction of an expanded, 6,000 sq ft addition to the already standing facility. In this additional space, Father Woody’s will be providing the following services: GED, money management, and employment readiness classes, a dental and eye clinic, mental health and NA/AA support groups, Veteran-specific resources, a wellness center which will include yoga classes, meditation, massage therapy, and acupuncture, a professional barber and hairdresser, job-training and art classes, a Master Gardener program, and additional medical providers such as a women’s health van, dietitian, and nurse. All of these services are being made possible by the generosity of volunteers in their respective fields of expertise.
We have come a long way since the “Miracle of Lipan Street,” as our former President Jay Gould would call it. It is truly a blessing and would not have been possible without the contributions from our nearly 7,000 benefactors. Within the community, Father Woody’s is often referred to as “The Brown Palace for the Homeless,” and we will continue to be a place of safety and comfort for our guests for as long as we are able to. We encourage people to stop by and see for themselves the services we provide because, as one volunteer wrote, “No one can understand what is happening here, unless you experience it first-hand.”