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Stopping the 'revolving door' 

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click to enlarge Odds are that a homeless person leaving a hospital will return soon. - COURTESY ASCENDING TO HEALTH
  • Courtesy Ascending to Health
  • Odds are that a homeless person leaving a hospital will return soon.

It is the middle of winter and someone has just been released from the hospital. With everything they own in a backpack, they search for a shelter that shields them from the Colorado cold. According to statistics, they're highly likely to be back in the hospital within three months.

Unfortunately for many of those affected by homelessness, there's no place for recovery after being released from a hospital. In fact, 50 percent of homeless clients return to the hospital within a week, due to complications and the inability to follow through with their post-care.

When Gregory Morris founded Ascending to Health Respite Care in 2012, it was a godsend to many. The nonprofit, one of two like it in Colorado, opens its doors to the homeless in need of a place to regain their health. The average length of stay is 33 days, he says. "We provide the kind of care that, at the very least, stops the revolving door back to the hospital."

Ascending to Health provides medical respite, recuperative care and even a housing program for homeless individuals undergoing a season of recovery, all on an annual budget of only $300,000, he notes. People are typically referred to the organization by hospitals. Being unable to care for themselves and having no place to be discharged to are two of the primary factors in the referral.

A woman named Marilyn was a recent recipient of respite services. She had moved to Colorado with two of her children, but was forced to leave home due to lifestyle differences. She had no place to go, then started to lose weight and became ill. Her once healthy 135 pounds dwindled to a mere 85 pounds in five months. Marilyn ended up in Memorial Hospital with severe malnutrition and an infection. While there, she discovered that she had been having mini-strokes.

"If I wouldn't have gotten help immediately, they told me that I wouldn't be around," she says in an Ascending to Health video interview. "With the help of Memorial bringing me back up and bringing me to [Ascending to Health], I was able to become as healthy as I am. I am not totally there yet but I have gained over 15 pounds."

Morris recalls another story in which a woman was evicted from her apartment while she was in the hospital. He says Ascending to Health went to the curb where all her belongings had been left, and picked them up to store for her. These are just two of the 130 stories generated by the respite program every year as it fulfills its mission.

The facility, located in downtown Colorado Springs, has hospital beds and recovery care for both men and women.

The program provides food, transportation to the doctor, continuum of care and daily case management to help end the cycle of homelessness.

"I started this because I felt like I could make a difference," Morris says. "I felt that I could be impactful — not just from a medical standpoint. Just sitting down and talking to somebody then seeing them transition out of homelessness. Being a part of it all has just been phenomenal."

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