The light at the end of the tunnel

Photo caption: Children participate in the “Potato Dance” at The Denver Indian Family Resource Center. Courtesy Photo/The DIFRC

DENVER, Colo.- The past year has been tough to say the least, especially for families treading water trying to avoid homelessness and the child welfare system.

“When the pandemic is over,” are words uttered far too often and have become more and more meaningless as the country approaches the unwelcome anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just staying afloat to keep food on the table, or having a table at all, has become an impossible task for many. Especially for a large portion of the American Indian and Alaska Native population within the 7-county Denver metro area.

The Denver Indian Family Resource Center became busier than ever helping the Native community stay out of welfare and in their homes as layoffs in the community occurred. The DIFRC needed aid, and quickly.

In December 2020, The DIFRC announced a $450,000 grant awarded by the Day 1 Families Fund from Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos. The DIFRC Executive Director, Tara McLain Manthey, who is an Osage tribal member and current vice chair of the Osage News Editorial Board, has a checklist of work to be done now that they have the means to do so.

“We work on supporting Native families so they can stay together, so that they can stay whole and to help counter the history of removing children at disproportionate rates,” she said. “We want to help them get the resources to provide for their children, not take them away like history did.”

Manthey went on to explain that a big part of this help is housing, not just the cost, but other more complicated factors that come into play. She explained how a large part of the community doesn’t qualify for subsidized housing since they move back and forth between Denver and their reservations. Because of that uniquely Native situation, the Native American Housing Circle was created to address those issues.

“Every situation is different. We have families in motels, families trying to keep their house from foreclosing, we have families staying with another family and looking to get their own place, so we help with security deposits, payments. We just want to ease their stress,” Manthey said.

Not only does The DIFRC look to further help families in difficult housing situations, but they are also expanding their services to support youth by teaching them life skills, exposing them to substance use prevention and reuniting them with their Native communities.

“My kids are 10 and 14 and I know firsthand it has been stressful for them to be isolated. Kids in those situations are more likely to turn to substance abuse and risky behavior so making sure they have support for mental health services, nutrition services and extracurricular activities is important now more than ever,” she said.

As far as the Osage community in Colorado, things were put on hold at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago but Manthey is eager to restart hangouts perhaps with language or cooking classes because if anything can be learned from this past year it is to hold our communities close and a bottle of hand sanitizer closer.