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Homeless Shelter Workers Vote to Unionize In Denver: ‘Staff Have Not Been Supported’

By Belal Awad · August 1, 2023

Homeless person sleeping at the Colorado Supreme Court Building  O'Dea/Wikimedia Commons

In a groundbreaking move, the staff at Urban Peak, a Denver-based shelter for homeless youth, voted to form a union. The decision marks the first-ever union for workers at a homeless shelter in Colorado. The union vote comes in response to a culture of high turnover and poor training at the facility, according to employees.

“A lot of us have had to work extra to make up for a high level of turnover, and many of the staff don’t get appropriate training to be able to serve our population,” Urban Peak staffer Jackson Vincent told CBS News Colorado

Urban Peak serves homeless youth with 68 apartments and a 40-bed emergency shelter. Employees, however, have voiced dissatisfaction over their working conditions and lack of supportive services for staff who must do the emotionally taxing work of responding to drug overdoses and fatalities caused, in part, by the ongoing fentanyl crisis.

“We’ve had a few youth who have died in that way and other ways, and staff have not been supported,” Vincent said.

Shelby Glover, a former client and employee at Urban Peak, quit the shelter for these very reasons. “We had a client death that hit me pretty hard, and so I decided that it was my time to leave,” she said.

Despite these challenges, the staff that remain say they are committed to improving conditions for both themselves and the residents they serve.

“I hope that we can have the right to get equal say in the policies… so that the youth can be served better” said Vincent.

Responding to the union vote, Urban Peak management released a statement saying, “We look forward to next steps so that we can continue to build out our programming and support our youth.”

Many believe the historic vote at Urban Peak will inspire similar organizing efforts in shelters across Colorado and elsewhere.

Light Wave commentary

The unionization of Urban Peak’s staff spotlights the often overlooked struggles faced by those working on the frontlines of homelessness. It’s a sharp reminder that those who dedicate their lives to the emotionally challenging work of serving the most vulnerable among us may also at times need support themselves.