Tackling Youth Homelessness


Living in Larimer County

Larimer County is a great place to live – so it is no surprise that residing here is expensive. Those who do not bring in a high enough income are facing the challenge to make ends meet. Sometimes, the combination of low-wages, high expenses, and any number of other internal or external problems an individual is facing can lead them into homelessness. According to The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Larimer County holds 22% of the homeless population in Colorado, making it the largest share in the state. Of this demographic in Larimer County, 7.5% of the population are between the ages of 18 and 25. In a county so affluent, these numbers are notable for being high.


Help for Those in Transition

When a young person exits foster care, or any unstable background, the (often abrupt) transition into financial independence is incredibly challenging. Without a home, strong support system, or financial backing, these young people can be driven into homelessness. Once there, the challenges to get out of poverty are especially daunting.  Fortunately, The Matthews House is actively working every day to help these young people find housing and build the skill sets they need to ensure stability as they get older. 


Our Services

When introduced to these youth, we work diligently to find these kids a home. Sometimes this means placing youth in a Host Home, which you can learn more about here. Other times, the youth can apply for an annual housing voucher which, when granted, takes on up to 70% off rent. This allows the youth in need to focus on other areas of their lives such as mental/emotional health, completing school, or overcoming substance abuse. 

The Matthews House knows that getting youth into housing is crucial to their well-being, but service does not stop there. Transition Facilitators continue to work with the youth on a regular basis to ensure that support is maintained. The Matthews House also offers life skill classes that go over a wide range of topics such as how to build a resume and how to shop for groceries and cook. Once the youth build these skills and become adjusted to living independently, they will be able to move on from financial assistance and take on the awesome responsibility of providing for themselves. 


Paths to Positive Futures

We believe helping youth gain a stable roof over their head is of utmost importance. With housing established and trusting relationships built, our youth are set on paths to positive futures.

Affordable Child Care


The Issue

The need for child care is ever-increasing in this economy, especially in the State of Colorado, as our population is always increasing. Nationally, 61 percent of children under the age of five experience weekly child care. The cycle of living paycheck to paycheck is a common burden among those in the Northern Colorado area and incomes cannot keep up with housing and child care costs. The average person in Fort Collins spends 30 percent of their income on housing. This usually leads to the need for a dual income for families, or the absolute necessity for a single parent to work full time. In Larimer County, 80 percent of women and 95 percent of men work. Without child care, this is impossible.


Effects on the Family

The phrase “affordable child care” leaves most middle and lower socioeconomic status workers in the United States wondering if there is such a thing. On average, Colorado is one of the most expensive states for child care. This lack of affordable care impacts one out of five low-income families, often deterring labor force participation among women. Colorado held the highest average cost in 2015 for center-based infant care, estimated to be about 50 percent of a single parent’s income, or 18 percent income for a family in Larimer County. Just a few years ago, 16 percent of Colorado’s children lived in poverty, and there are statistics that point to the overall cost of child care and housing as a factor.


Effects on the Community

This cost breakdown for Larimer County poses threats to the quality of life for families and children in the middle to lower socioeconomic classes. However, it also poses threats to the job market. Each business depends on employees who depend on child care. If families cannot afford child care, they lose income and businesses lose employees. Additionally, it is important to consider the quality of child care available. If the quality is poor, there are increased risks for negative developmental outcomes including poor behavioral, academic, and executive functioning outcomes. Exposure to negative environments is a risk that many low-income parents take when choosing child care that is affordable in Larimer County and in the United States as a whole.


Role of The Matthews House

We at The Matthews House have staff members who work one-on-one with families who are impacted by issues like affordable child care. We build relationships with these families and help connect them with information and resources they need to support their children. These staff are primarily our Family to Family Transition Facilitators and Early Childhood Navigators. We are also always learning new information from the state and county levels to implement in our work, as this issue is pursued. Though we do not have a full-time child care programs, we do provide free relief to families in a couple ways. Our after-school program called Homework Helpers is a safe space for 8-16 year olds to grow friendships and get help with their academics. Also, we offer free child care during our adult education classes and groups, to ease the burden of finding and affording child care. If you’re interested in joining us as we support these families, check out the Volunteer tab of our website!

Generational Poverty & Education

What is poverty and how is it measured?

Poverty, or the state of being extremely poor is a widespread issue here in the United States. To be considered ‘living in poverty’ a household must be below a set income threshold that varies by family size. The set threshold for each family size is updated annually to reflect inflation and is consistent across the country. The Census Bureau determines poverty by family income before taxes– it does not include any government assistance such as subsidized housing, food stamps, or enrollment in programs such as Medicaid. The poverty measure also doesn’t account for cost of living variances or any other factors outside of income, often making the measure heavily skewed and inaccurate to measure who is truly impoverished.


What is Generational Poverty?

Generational poverty is a term to describe a family who has been considered impoverished for two or more generations. Families stuck in the cycle of generational poverty often have many commonalities that may include illiteracy, lack of land ownership, lack of education, and lack of job stability.


How Does Poverty Affect Youth?

Studies about poverty are in agreement: Poverty can have devastating impacts on our youth and their development. Multiple sources have stated children in poverty are more likely to experience hopelessness, illiteracy,  behavioral/social/emotional issues, a survivalist mindset, and even poor health. Youth in poverty are also more likely to suffer from criminality, hunger, illness and unemployment. To top it off youth in poverty are more likely to face rough home situations which can worsen other issues.


Education is Fundamental

Education, or lack thereof,  has been found to be both a leading cause of and solution to poverty. To begin with, lack of early childhood education due to an inability to afford childcare or other resources can hinder a child’s cognitive development which may damage their future educational success. Often poverty can also lead to youth dropping out of school to help support their family by finding a job: This may hinder their ability to later get a job stable enough to help pull them out of poverty, thus trapping them in the cycle of poverty. A study of generational poverty from Yale University insists education is the answer to escaping generational poverty. The same study noted, “Schools are really the only places where students can learn about the choices and rules of the middle class or have access to people who are willing and able to help them.” Youth in poverty lack equal access to education and resources to help pull them out of poverty, or ever learn that is a viable option for their life.  Ending poverty requires educated parents to help raise educated children, and the time to step up to help is now.


The Matthews House mission is to empower youth and families by building trusting relationships and providing resources to disrupt the cycles of poverty and abuse. We work toward this by walking alongside families and youth as they set goals and overcome obstacles in these main areas: education, housing, employment, well-being, and life skills.

HOST Homes


Our HOST Home Program started in 2014. A HOST Home is a short-term voluntary placement for young adults, ages 18 – 21, who are at risk of being homeless or are currently homeless. The goal is to provide a safe, temporary, welcoming space for up to 6 months where the young adult has time to prepare to transition into independent living. Check out what one of our current young adults in the program shared with us about her experience!


What impact has the HOST Home Program had on you?

The HOST Home Program has already changed my life tremendously. It has allowed me to escape a [tough] home living situation, and has also allowed me to learn and develop skills on independent living. Doing so brought me out of depression and I am now free to pursue my interests and think about my future.


How has it challenged you to grow?

I was already somewhat independent before I joined the program, but afterwards it forced me to make decisions that I did not want to make, but needed to. Living semi-independently made it so that when I wanted to pursue something, I didn’t have to look for the approval of those who’s care I was under. It gave me space to learn for myself and create more art than I ever have before. 


What independent living skills are you most proud of learning?

I am most proud of learning how to manage all the new things in my life; from researching and selecting the best insurance, managing work hours and balancing it with my social life, and overall keeping my life organized in a messy world. I am confident in my choosing of college and what I want to do with the rest of my life.


How has it impacted your relationships with family members?

After moving out, my relationship with my [family members] immediately improved. Adults in my family now treat me with the respect I deserve because I have proved to them that I am capable of doing things on my own and taking the opportunities given to me. I can leave the house whenever I want to visit with my siblings, which has made things much easier. 


Where would you be without your HOST Home?

Like I said before, the HOST Home Program brought me out of a depression from [a tough living situation]. [The] constant cycle of strife kept me from blooming and discovering who I am. If it were not for the HOST Program, I would not be as outgoing and determined as I am now.


What would you say to your HOST family to share appreciation for them?

First off, I would say what is expected and normal in a situation like this: thank you. But it goes deeper than that. I realize that having a stranger move into your home can be scary and sometimes risky, so I am thankful for the compassion [the host home] has shown when inviting me into her home. [Their] decision to allow me to stay for a while has already had a great and positive impact on my life now and, I imagine, on my future. Thank you is only the start.

Meet our Executive Program Director

At The Matthews House, one of our greatest assets is our staff! Our compassionate and resourceful direct service and administrative staff work every day toward our overall goal of disrupting cycles of poverty and abuse. Nicole Armstrong, Executive Program Director, has been with us almost since the beginning. She started as a direct service worker herself, so she has seen all sides of working with our youth and families. Here’s a look into her experience seeing The Matthews House grow and develop since 2008!


As of March 2020 we’re proud to have Nicole Armstrong as our Executive Director!








“I have come to understand and appreciate the true value of my journey and experiences and that these are woven in the fabric of the agency. It is a complete honor to work at an agency that has been instrumental in changing the landscape of how human services are rendered in Northern Colorado.”


How have you seen the vision of The Matthews House evolve over the past 11 years?

I have had the incredible opportunity to have joined the team when it was still in its infancy and been provided the opportunity to grow professionally and personally as the agency grew. When I started with the agency, our goal and mission were to serve youth in transition. Through continued work to expand and understand the needs of the youth and families in our community, we have had the opportunity to continue to expand with intentional programming and opportunities. This has ensured our community is healthy and all youth and families feel supported and part of our community. We continue to explore and understand the needs in our community with intentional work to ensure we are honoring what is needed for the youth and family we serve.


We have 35 full-time staff now; how many were there when you started?

7 employees – I now supervise more than that!


Did you have any idea The Matthews House would become what it is today?

Oh, no… I had no idea. Our journey has been one that has been a gift to be part of. I feel respect for the journey. 


What do you find most meaningful about your work?

The youth and families we work with. For someone to be vulnerable and allow you to walk alongside them during some of the hardest times of their lives, is humbling and honoring. We often are planting seeds and sometimes we get to see them grow and other times, you don’t get to see them bloom. Some of the youth and families come for a short time and other times they stay for longer times. All of the youth and families I have had the opportunity to meet and work with bring so much meaning to my work and have truly shaped who I am as a worker and parent. 

Youth Advisory Board

About 8 years ago, The Matthews House created a Youth Advisory Board (YAB). The Youth Advisory Board works with the Department of Human Services (DHS) because the voice of the youth impact how DHS makes decisions. Our Youth Advocate on staff was youth in the system herself and understands what those involved in Youth Advisory Board are experiencing. Here’s what she has to say about the program:


What is the role of a Youth Advocate?

Youth Advocates help youth in Larimer County find their voice while developing peer leaders and improving their overall experience with DHS. Through the Youth Advocate’s role with the youth, we’re able to increase self-advocacy in the system, develop peer leadership and career skills, decrease the average placement changes in Larimer County, develop more life-long natural supports, and work with youth to accomplish goals.


What is the Youth Advisory Board?

The Youth Advisory Board is led by a group of four 16-21 year olds who want to make a difference in their lives and the lives of other youth by engaging in foster care training, DHS meetings, and community service projects.

The YAB gives youth confidence and helps them find their identity by speaking into the system to advocate for kids just like them. Members of the program have the opportunity to gain experience in leadership, public speaking, organization, and community service.


What is the goal of the Youth Advisory Board and what does the YAB accomplish?

We hope to build leadership qualities and educate each other about the different struggles youth go through and empower our youth to speak up. The youth involved have a chance to engage in public speaking and leadership training that are necessary for the youth to continue to grow as leaders.

Our desire is that the YAB members will advocate for other youth in foster care or the justice system and be leaders in our community. Hopefully the youth will be empowered to one day change legislative laws regarding foster care and the justice system if deemed necessary.


What has meant the most to you during your time with the Youth Advisory Board?

One thing that really touched my heart was the suicide awareness walk we participated in. We supported families and friends and people who have struggled themselves with suicide or ideations or attempts. We walked alongside everyone on a Saturday morning. Everyone was able to pick beaded necklaces and the color of the beads had a specific personal meaning (such as blue meant they supported the cause and green meant they struggled personally). Our youth were honest in the beads they selected, understanding that even though they were there to support our community, our community was there to support them too.

The YAB is important to me because I understand that moving forward and making changes in my life and the lives of others is crucial. I believe that engaging in new opportunities that open doors and empower youth to be something they didn’t believe they could be or doing something they only wished they could do is what helps youth find value in themselves and the world.

Executive Function & Childhood Trauma


Executive Function

Executive function is a term described as the ability to regulate goal-oriented abilities, control behavior, choose thoughtfully, and control emotions. Executive functions serve as the building blocks of cognitive abilities such as problem solving, decision making, focus, and planning. Impaired executive functions can be directly linked to ADHD as many symptoms are exactly the same. Childhood trauma can hinder the development of executive functions, affecting individuals’ self-control and goal-directed behavior. When trauma interferes with the development of executive functions, a child’s potential to succeed in academic and social settings may be damaged.


Childhood Trauma

Much of the time, youth experiencing trauma experience it repeatedly, resulting in long-lasting symptoms. Trauma can include the process of the child or youth being separated from their family in order to be placed into the foster care system. Most often, though, trauma in children and young adults is caused by abuse, poverty, and neglect.

“The most common cause of trauma we see is from repeated abuse and neglect by the primary caregiver for the child,” Andrew McKnight, Youth & Family Program Director, said. “We occasionally see youth [and] children who have only experienced trauma for a short period but more typically see [those] who have extensive trauma backgrounds.”

Although the source of their trauma may be in the past, the memories of the trauma can cause a youth to be unable to function properly because the situations have overwhelmed their ability to cope and interfere with daily life. Impacts of trauma can cause development of behaviors such as anger, violence, hyperactivity, difficulties in concentration, an inability or resistance to trust anyone, and a lack of empathy and selfish thought patterns.


The Matthews House Impact

Our staff is made up of trauma-informed, compassionate individuals who walk alongside our youth and families as they process and navigate the trauma they’ve experienced. In additional to case management with youth, we also offer educational support to parents such as practical techniques to use in the home, advocacy for foster/kin families within the system, help with transitions, de-escalation and co-regulation techniques, help finding appropriate activities for the child. Executive function damage is not permanent. Intervention programming and strong support systems can help empower and strengthen those whose lives have been affected by trauma.

More Than Just Homework Help

Homework Helpers is one of the services offered within the Building Community Program at The Matthews House. It started in August of 2013 and at first, two college student interns ran the program two days a week at one of our Community Life Center (CLC) sites. After 2014, Homework Helpers began running 5 days a week. Now, two Homework Helper Coordinators work with the students at each of the CLCs.




The purpose of Homework Helpers is to provide a safe and enriching after-school environment for students ages 8-16 to work on and receive help with homework, eat a healthy snack, and build positive relationships with other students and adults present. About 90% of the kids in Homework Helpers also have free or reduced lunch because they come from low-income families. These kids often wouldn’t get a healthy snack if it weren’t for the Food Bank donating to Homework Helpers.


Most families are referred to Homework Helpers, but the program is open to anyone as long as there’s space for more kids on the roster. Many parents register their kids in Homework Helpers because the parents cannot speak English fluently, have kids struggling in their academic work, need free after-school care, or desire that their kids have the opportunity to make new and positive friendships outside of their schools and neighborhoods.


“One of our older students, who is not very motivated to complete his work, recently scored 100% on his math test, and now he is motivated to bring his math grade up to an A! He wants work hard to raise all of his other grades, as well!” – Homework Helpers Volunteer


Our Education and Enrichment Director and two Homework Helper Coordinators try to create variety in the day-to-day sessions by offering fun, educational enrichment opportunities. Often outside agencies or groups will come in and lead these activities. Recently, 4H has been coming every other week and sharing science experiments with the kids. The local library has also come once a week to teach sewing. Through this, the students have been able to sew pillowcases, PJ pants, shorts, dresses, backpacks, and more. The kids even get to go on field trips on some of the days Poudre School District isn’t in session!


Homework Helpers provides real results when it comes to social and academic improvements. One volunteer told us she has seen such great improvements in respect and ability to follow direction, as well as an improvement in grades and academic success from many of the kids involved in the program.

Building Community

When the Building Community Program started in 2012, only one service was offered. Today, the Building Community Program offers a variety of services to include a broader population of community members. One of our directors took the time to explain more about what program has to offer the community!

When did the Building Community Program start?

Building Community really got started with the first Community Life Center (CLC) in 2012. There was a needs assessment done in the community, so a lot of partners like the Department of Human Services [and] the school district all got together and saw a need for some kind of community service. They had those groups of people go to the Midwest and visit a model called settlement homes. The model is essentially community taking care of community. They thought it would work well here, and they asked The Matthews House if we could do that.


What services were offered at the beginning? How have the services changed or grown up until now?

The first program that was there was Family to Family. That’s the roots of the CLC, and now we’ve expanded to have three family services programs. Family services include Family to Family, the Be Ready Early Childhood Navigator Program, and then CCR (Colorado Community Response). In addition to those programs comes the education and recreation pieces: Homework Helpers, GED, ESL, Best Starts for Babies, and Parent Cafés. Zumba is one recreation activity, we’ve done country line dancing, and we also have community events baby showers, family dinners, and a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s really a space where families or kiddos can find community but also take what they’ve found and then spread it.


How many Community Life Centers (CLCs) are there?

There are two, and they serve all Larimer County. We started with our CLC at Fullana and recently moved that site to First Presbyterian, and our second is our CLC at Genesis Project. The growth has been huge. The CLCs are open to anyone, so people can walk in, other agencies can send their families, people can send friends – it’s just meant to be a very all-encompassing space.




What is the main goal of the Building Community Program?

I would say the main goal would be providing a safe space and an opportunity for families to explore who they are as families and what they need to be successful.


How have you seen the program build community?

One really cool example has been with Best Starts for Babies and Parent Cafés. Both of those provide on-going opportunities for families to interact with each other, so then they become this little cohort that supports each other. We also had a young parent playgroup and those moms got to know each other so well that they gave each other hand-me-downs if their baby was a little bit older. It just happens where families connect with each other, build a support network, and then they carry that on. Even if the class is over, they now have contacts that they can take to their external community. It also creates community in that we’re partnering with other agencies, so it’s broadening our community of people. It’s a lot of different layers. There are opportunities for people to give back, volunteer and just be together. There are so many different ways that community happens. It’s fun and sometimes it pops up where we don’t expect it to.

Be a Mentor!


Through The Matthews House Mentor Program, we pair youth with adult volunteers in our community to establish mentor-mentee relationships. The purpose of our Mentor Program is to provide additional supports to at-risk youth to help them improve social and emotional development. Mentors provide youth with positive experiences to build strong relationships and instill confidence. This can look like anything from playing board games or going on a bike ride together, to going deep and talking through issues and advice.


All young people need caring adults in their lives. Many youth we work with haven’t experienced healthy or positive adult relationships. While parental support is also crucial, mentors can provide extra relational support as well as guidance on issues that youth might not feel comfortable discussing with their parents because of strained relationships or distrust. With caring, positive role models, youth can learn how to navigate tough decisions and make smart choices leading to a more successful and full adult life.


One of The Matthews House volunteer mentors is Jef. When working with his mentee, Jef understood that in order to build a meaningful relationship, he needed to identify common interests. The youth he works with loves gaming, software development, and any project that involves problem solving, such as riddles or puzzles. For his mentee’s birthday, Jef decided to set up a trip to an escape room and invited other staff from The Matthews House to help him and his youth crack the code. Five staff members happily agreed to spend their time outside of work with this young man. They had a great time and went out for dinner afterwards. This is an example of how experiences with mentors can show youth that adults in their life care about them and take interest in their lives.


The longer the mentoring relationship, whether official and organized or not, the better the outcome. By inviting natural relationships into the mentoring, adults are able to get to know their youth and the youth are able to see healthy adult friendships in action. The foundation of mentoring is to provide care and guidance to young people, enabling them to be successful in their lives. It promotes positive social attitudes and relationships.


We’re always looking for adults interested in mentoring our youth! Through The Matthews House, a volunteer mentorship is a six-month commitment and requires our normal application, interview, and appropriate background checks. Contact our Volunteer Coordinator for more information!