Durango photographer Kyla Jenkinson raised enough money in three days on GoFundMe to house her homeless friend for three months.
She launched the online campaign the day before Christmas Eve – after she learned her friend had secured housing but didn’t have $300 for the deposit. She was doubtful anyone would have extra money to share during the holidays. But she reached fundraising goal overnight.
“I was sobbing,” she said.
The experience inspired her and several others to start “A Mile in My Shoes,” an educational and fundraising campaign around the issue of homelessness. The yearlong campaign will start Sunday with a pajama party at Fort Lewis College. The event will feature an art installation focused on homeless residents in town, and the organizers plan to unveil a new online platform to help one homeless resident at a time.
The campaign is meant to broaden the conversation in Durango from focusing on the location of the homeless camp to how the community can house the homeless.
“It just takes some compassionate people to create that change and to realize that this community includes everybody in it, and we need to treat humans like human beings,” Jenkinson said.
Jenkinson is working with a handful of people to organize the event, including affordable housing expert Jennifer Lopez, who worked on homelessness across Colorado with the governor’s office. The event was inspired by similar, successful events in Denver, Lopez said.
“It was light and fun and hopeful,” she said.
Over the next year, “A Mile in My Shoes” team plans to work on identifying gaps in services for the homeless and fundraising to fill those gaps, Lopez said in an email.
They have had preliminary talks with existing nonprofits, such as Housing Solutions for the Southwest, and those groups are interested in partnering with the campaign to house and serve more people, she said.
“We want this process to be a collaboration of existing nonprofit support systems, compassionate community members and businesses,” she said.
The long-term goal is to raise money for large-scale housing programs and help bring in state and federal funding for housing.
The federal budget has more funding for housing vouchers and affordable housing development than in the past, and Colorado has set aside some marijuana tax dollars for housing the homeless as well, Lopez said.
“There are resources out there. We have to band together and go after them,” she said.
She believes over the next two years Durango has the opportunity to increase affordable housing options.
For more information about the pajama party, visit amileinmyshoesscholarship.com.