Systems change can be daunting. Complex, clunky, and inherently flawed, systems require enormous time, effort, and resources for real change. It’s no wonder people can feel overwhelmed and defeated by the mere thought of it.
But what if there was another way? What if, at least initially, the work could be more organic and authentic? What if it could feel less like work and more like… fun?
When Angela Roberts was hired in 2021 by CHP as a Housing Navigator under the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care, she was given the freedom to shape her role as she saw fit. “I had never been in a job like that. I realized early on that there’s a lot of creativity we can put into the work that we’re doing here,” Angela says.
As part of her role, Angela tracked and identified recurring obstacles and challenges faced by clients and case managers when it came to obtaining housing. Simultaneously, she engaged in conversations with service providers to understand their experiences. Angela discovered striking similarities in the challenges they encountered.
That summer, Angela connected with Sarah Seales, the Housing Navigator for Partners in Housing. Sarah, also new to her role, had noticed similar patterns. Together, they came up with the idea of a monthly meeting where experiences, successes, resources, and ideas could be shared. Angela promptly reached out to the individuals she had previously connected with to gauge their interest. To her delight, every single one of them wanted to be involved.
Although Angela had only been with CHP for a few months, she felt empowered to move forward. “At the time, I was still learning the culture and purpose of CHP,” Angela recalls. “But I knew that convening and collaborating was an important part of our work. So, this fell right in line with that.”
The first meeting validated their idea. The engagement, conversation, and excitement confirmed that they were on the right track. From there, the meetings were co-created, with each member contributing their ideas, expertise, questions, and solutions. This monthly gathering fostered connections, strengthened relationships, and sparked the birth of new ideas that were eagerly explored and implemented.
One notable idea was the establishment of quarterly meetings with landlords. Recognizing the critical role landlords play in the housing landscape, the group sought to mend the often-strained relationship between landlords and service providers. Instead of dictating what landlords “should” be doing, they take a different approach. They meet the landlords where they are and engage in genuine conversations. The housing group offers information and resources while landlords are free to ask questions and voice their concerns.
“We have to be understanding and sympathetic,” Angela emphasizes. “We respect that this is their business, their livelihood. We listen to their concerns and try to learn from them. Then we ask, ‘What do you need from us? What can we do?'” These conversations can be challenging, Angela acknowledges, but by being open and truly listening, trust is built.
Another initiative involved hosting an in-person forum on affordable housing and voucher programs. The group invited landlords, developers, property managers, city representatives, service providers, and other nonprofits. However, due to an unforeseen snowstorm, the event had to be held virtually. At one point, there were 55 people on the call, far more than had RSVP’d for the event. Big success, right?
“To be honest, we lost the point and purpose of the meeting. There were too many voices discussing a very touchy subject,” recalls Angela. “We were in over our heads.” But instead of throwing in the towel, they recognized that this was a learning experience that could help guide them as they moved forward.
Following the forum, the original group members – including Angela, Sarah, Heather Brinker from Catholic Charities (now at CHP), and Mike Neumann from Rocky Mountain Human Services – saw an opportunity for reflection. They collectively mapped out their purpose, mission, and identity. This introspection led to the official formation of the Housing Navigation Network. With new policies and processes in place, the group embraced a more structured approach. However, the enthusiasm, energy, and excitement that fueled their initial efforts remained unchanged.
Today, the group’s growth continues with a new meeting structure. Each month, they learn from a different service provider, expanding their knowledge and collaborative efforts. Additionally, they are working together to create a process guide that service providers can offer their clients at the beginning of the housing navigation process. Recently, they had the privilege of meeting with State Representative Stephanie Vigil, who sought them out to learn more about housing issues and what changes need to be made to the system.
“This was something we discussed early on,” Angela reveals. “‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we were connected with an elected official or decision-maker who has the influence to make legislative change?’ It was always a big dream, and now it seems to be playing out.”
Looking back over the past two years, Angela, who has recently transitioned into the role of Transformation Manager, is amazed at the progress the group has made. And it all began because she was empowered to run with an idea that intuitively felt right.
“There wasn’t as much pressure or a checklist of things I needed to complete before moving on to the next task,” Angela reflects. “I think the organic nature of our approach allowed things to naturally unfold. It was about having that creative freedom.”