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Color in the Darkness of Homelessness

You walk in and the far wall is covered in artwork. Paintings, drawings, paper cut-outs. Each week is different, but with the large white walls, the color draws you in.

Now artwork on a wall may not be the most unique thing, but what is unique is that this art is on a wall of a homeless shelter, and it was created by those who temporarily call this place home.

As you walk closer, words on a large paper canvas in bright pastels stand out—joy, peace and hope.

You may wonder, “How do people experiencing one of the most difficult times in their life stay so positive?”

Angie Tims—who runs the weekly art collaborative for those staying at Denver Rescue Mission’s 48th Avenue Center —explained that simply joining the art group has motivated many people to engage with a case manager and take proactive steps toward long-term, stable housing.

“Maybe they’re not ready to seek mental health care or any other resources that are going to be necessary for them to get out of this situation,” she said, “and so it’s giving people an opportunity to just be with others and do something that is good for them, that brings life.”

You don’t have to call yourself an artist to create something beautiful. Whether going through a challenging time or not, art and creativity have been shown to help us all process through things before we can even put words to it. Through the art collaborative and several other creative groups across the Mission’s programs, art has become an effective form of therapy.

Cal, a shelter guest at the Mission said, “I have a background in art history, computer-aided design and Photoshop and Illustrator. Art is about finding what’s important. It’s a good way to express yourself and express what’s going on inside your mind. I’m reading a lot, working on my thoughts, trying to overcome the cloudiness in my mind.”


“When I was a kid in school, I would always do art and so it’s kind of like a remembrance of that. I’m not an artist, so just sprinkling a little joy into your day, that’s what it’s about. It’s just fun,” said Les.


“I’ve been into art my whole life. In first grade I won an art contest. I’ve always loved it, and it definitely relaxes you. I painted, I drew, I did a lot of colored pencil stuff, and I just haven’t done it for a while,” said Charlie.

Art therapy is one of many innovative approaches to helping people find their way out of homelessness, one that Denver Rescue Mission’s full staff of counselors and case managers continue to see getting more people on a path toward stable housing than ever before.


It’s been a long time since the Mission was just about meals and a place to stay. Today, wraparound services are integrated into the Mission’s approach to better support an exit plan from homelessness, which includes counseling and therapeutic methods (and even a therapy dog named George) that help people heal and re-gain the dignity they need to get out of their challenging circumstances.

This wraparound approach can include art therapy, trauma informed care and counseling, work readiness and the case management support that helps get people into stable housing. Creating these opportunities are a vital part of all areas at the Mission including the New Life Program for men, as well as Bridge, a transitional housing program for individuals and families, both located at The Crossing. Joy McGuire-Olson, who is the Associate Clinical Director at The Crossing, has seen firsthand the impact art and expression in particular has had on participants in these programs, including kids living at The Crossing who participate in the Mission’s youth center.

“Art is such a meaningful way to express what is often hard to put in words,” she said. “It represents to me, an equalizer, in that the beauty of art often isn’t tied to the worth, value or socioeconomic status of the creator. Many of those who are overlooked by our communities because they aren’t perceived as enough or of value, carry beauty within them that many can appreciate.”

Denver Rescue Mission is a non-profit that meets the needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty through emergency services, rehabilitation, transitional programs, and community outreach, last year helping more than 539 households—both individuals and families—get into permanent housing. Donate Today.

Denver Rescue Mission