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Denver homeless shelter votes to unionize

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Employees of a Denver nonprofit working with homeless youth voted to unionize their workplace, making Urban Peak the first homeless shelter in Colorado to unionize, according to the Service Employees International Union Local 105.

The labor unit has joined SEIU Local 105 after more than a year of organizing, with workers citing problems such as large workloads, high rates of turnover among staff, inadequate training and resources, poor handling of responses to trauma, and punishment for speaking out.

On Wednesday, a majority of Urban Peak’s non-management employees voted in favor of establishing the union.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve done,” said Jackson Vincent, a relief staff member, adding: “Unionizing, organizing, has even just made the atmosphere and the way that we support each other — regardless of things that need to change — so much better in the workplace.”

Urban Peak was established in 1988 as an overnight shelter in a church basement and has expanded to include daytime shelter, transitional housing and case management and support services. The organization has about 90 employees and has a budget of about $9 million for fiscal year 2023, according to Urban Peak CEO Christina Carlson. The nonprofit is funded through grants, donations and government support.

Between 50 and 60 of Urban Peak’s employees are eligible to be part of the union, organizers have said, though Urban Peak management is contesting a few of the employees.

Management at Urban Peak did not voluntarily recognize the union when employees first approached them about it, which led to this week’s vote, and employees said they’ve heard very little from the top about the effort.

Carlson said the organizing effort is an opportunity to hear from staff and the youth the nonprofit serves in a new way to problem solve, including on issues leaders have already been trying to improve. That includes addressing staffing issues, which Urban Peak has taken steps to improve over the past few years.

“It’s just this evolving process around how can we really continue to figure out what the needs are and how can we respond to them, because at the end of the day, working with youth who are experiencing homelessness and really trying to change those trajectories and provide that support, we need the best staff who have the most resources and the most time and all of those things that they need to be successful because we all care deeply about working with our youth,” she told The Denver Post.

From Vincent’s perspective, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Vincent started working at Urban Peak as an intern in the fall of 2021 and then as a shelter relief staff member through their time completing a master’s in social work. They hope their organizing efforts will lead to employees with “boots on the ground” and the youth the group serves having more of a say in policy decisions, improve training and support to increase retention and creating better policies around traumatic events.

Urban Peak receives $16.7 million from the City and County of Denver’s Rebuilding for an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy bond funding, and the Department of Housing Stability has several multi-year contracts with Urban Peak, set to expire at the end of the year, that could total up to $3.44 million, according to data provided by the department.

The nonprofit also serves as a subcontractor for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless on two multi-year contracts, also set to expire at the end of this year, totaling up to about $11.78 million.

The Department of Housing Stability plans to review the information about the labor efforts at Urban Peak and evaluate any potential impacts to the current contracts, said spokesperson Derek Woodbury.

Urban Peak also receives funding from Denver’s Department of Human Services, but a spokesperson did not return calls for comment on Thursday.

Newly-elected Denver City Councilwoman Shontel Lewis applauded the union effort at Urban Peak, saying that as a City Council member, she believes in encouraging people to unionize to uplift the voices of those working on the front lines. Unionizing, she added, often results in better relationships with management.

“It’s really important for us to recognize if we are going to solve the crises of homelessness that the only way that we’re able to do that is by making sure that those that are providing that service to our unhoused siblings have the resources that they need to be able to do their jobs effectively; that they are fully staffed out; that they are compensated well that their working conditions make sense; that they have the resources that they need from an operational standpoint,” she said.

Lewis also views the organizing efforts as an accountability measure for the contracts that the City Council approves.

“Ultimately, the goal is to make sure that they are providing good service to our unhoused folks,” she said. “And they do that by having good work environments and good cultures, and a place where they have a voice and their voices are uplifted in order to be able to do that.”



Employees of a Denver nonprofit working with homeless youth voted to unionize their workplace, making Urban Peak the first homeless shelter in Colorado to unionize, according to the Service Employees International Union Local 105.

The labor unit has joined SEIU Local 105 after more than a year of organizing, with workers citing problems such as large workloads, high rates of turnover among staff, inadequate training and resources, poor handling of responses to trauma, and punishment for speaking out.

On Wednesday, a majority of Urban Peak’s non-management employees voted in favor of establishing the union.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve done,” said Jackson Vincent, a relief staff member, adding: “Unionizing, organizing, has even just made the atmosphere and the way that we support each other — regardless of things that need to change — so much better in the workplace.”

Urban Peak was established in 1988 as an overnight shelter in a church basement and has expanded to include daytime shelter, transitional housing and case management and support services. The organization has about 90 employees and has a budget of about $9 million for fiscal year 2023, according to Urban Peak CEO Christina Carlson. The nonprofit is funded through grants, donations and government support.

Between 50 and 60 of Urban Peak’s employees are eligible to be part of the union, organizers have said, though Urban Peak management is contesting a few of the employees.

Management at Urban Peak did not voluntarily recognize the union when employees first approached them about it, which led to this week’s vote, and employees said they’ve heard very little from the top about the effort.

Carlson said the organizing effort is an opportunity to hear from staff and the youth the nonprofit serves in a new way to problem solve, including on issues leaders have already been trying to improve. That includes addressing staffing issues, which Urban Peak has taken steps to improve over the past few years.

“It’s just this evolving process around how can we really continue to figure out what the needs are and how can we respond to them, because at the end of the day, working with youth who are experiencing homelessness and really trying to change those trajectories and provide that support, we need the best staff who have the most resources and the most time and all of those things that they need to be successful because we all care deeply about working with our youth,” she told The Denver Post.

From Vincent’s perspective, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Vincent started working at Urban Peak as an intern in the fall of 2021 and then as a shelter relief staff member through their time completing a master’s in social work. They hope their organizing efforts will lead to employees with “boots on the ground” and the youth the group serves having more of a say in policy decisions, improve training and support to increase retention and creating better policies around traumatic events.

Urban Peak receives $16.7 million from the City and County of Denver’s Rebuilding for an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy bond funding, and the Department of Housing Stability has several multi-year contracts with Urban Peak, set to expire at the end of the year, that could total up to $3.44 million, according to data provided by the department.

The nonprofit also serves as a subcontractor for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless on two multi-year contracts, also set to expire at the end of this year, totaling up to about $11.78 million.

The Department of Housing Stability plans to review the information about the labor efforts at Urban Peak and evaluate any potential impacts to the current contracts, said spokesperson Derek Woodbury.

Urban Peak also receives funding from Denver’s Department of Human Services, but a spokesperson did not return calls for comment on Thursday.

Newly-elected Denver City Councilwoman Shontel Lewis applauded the union effort at Urban Peak, saying that as a City Council member, she believes in encouraging people to unionize to uplift the voices of those working on the front lines. Unionizing, she added, often results in better relationships with management.

“It’s really important for us to recognize if we are going to solve the crises of homelessness that the only way that we’re able to do that is by making sure that those that are providing that service to our unhoused siblings have the resources that they need to be able to do their jobs effectively; that they are fully staffed out; that they are compensated well that their working conditions make sense; that they have the resources that they need from an operational standpoint,” she said.

Lewis also views the organizing efforts as an accountability measure for the contracts that the City Council approves.

“Ultimately, the goal is to make sure that they are providing good service to our unhoused folks,” she said. “And they do that by having good work environments and good cultures, and a place where they have a voice and their voices are uplifted in order to be able to do that.”

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