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Meet Melanie Lewis Dickerson of Community Solutions in Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melanie Lewis Dickerson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Melanie. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
After finishing my undergraduate degree, I made the move from Mississippi to Colorado to attend graduate school at CU Denver. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with my new city and all of the opportunities it had to offer. Nearly thirteen years later, my husband and I can’t imagine calling anywhere else our home. Upon finishing my Master of Public Administration, I had the opportunity to turn an internship into a full-time position with the City and County of Denver as the Partnerships Manager for Denver’s Road Home. This is where I found my love for building public-private partnerships and became inspired by the idea of solving complex problems that everyone believed were intractable.

In 2014, after five years with the City, I took my next big leap and joined the team at Community Solutions to work on ending homelessness nationally. I began my tenure as an Improvement Advisor, coaching various communities across the country in their work to end veteran and chronic homelessness as part of our Built for Zero initiative. In this role, I had the opportunity to coach multiple communities to a measurable end to veteran homelessness, including Riverside County, CA and Gulf Coast Region, MS. More importantly, I had the chance to learn, fail, and discover new ideas and innovations.

Last year, I shifted into a new role on our team, leading the development of our advisory portfolio on large-scale social change while also helping to drive pioneering social impact real estate investments in both the Denver area and other markets. This new challenge involves translating Built for Zero’s data-driven strategy for clients seeking to replicate and adapt it to new populations in the US and Canada. We are now on the verge of seeing our first international community achieve a measurable end to homeless and to unlocking new innovations in ending youth homelessness.

From my earliest memories, my parents imparted upon me the importance of being involved in your community and of giving back in whatever way you’re able. While my professional landscape widened, it became personally more important than ever to remain involved at home in Denver. I believe in spending my time on work that feels meaningful and that is making a long-term impact and I’ve been lucky to provide leadership for multiple local organizations that are doing just that. Over the last two years, I was afforded the opportunity to serve as President of the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative and of the Mile High Young Professionals. After leading the organization’s policy and advocacy work for two years, I was recently selected as the President-Elect for the Junior League of Denver. Each of these organizations has taught me critical lessons, brought an immense amount of joy, and had a profound impact on who I am today.

Has it been a smooth road?
Even though each of our stories is different, I think the road always has a few bumps. I’ve been very fortunate to have a supportive family, friends, and mentors who have encouraged me along the way but each chapter comes with a new challenge. Working to solve homelessness when most people think it can’t be solved certainly keeps things interesting. And working to find solutions in a large market like Denver or Phoenix increases the complexity exponentially. It requires a re-examination of our history, how we build teams, how we allocate resources, and of what we value as a community. There are many important and diverse opinions that must be balanced in order to move into collaborative action. But I’ve seen what’s possible when we keep a shared goal at the center and together embrace the opportunities to fail forward.

Through it all, I’ve found that three things continue to drive me forward: a relentless belief that homelessness can and should be solved, not managed; an intense curiosity about large systems and cities with many moving parts; and surrounding myself with good people who believe that bringing joy to incredibly tough work is essential to success.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Community Solutions – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
Community Solutions is a non-profit organization that works to end homelessness and the conditions that create it. By advancing systems and housing solutions, we seek to create a future where homelessness only exists as a rare and brief experience — and never as a defining or enduring force in anyone’s life. Our Built for Zero initiative has helped leaders in more than 70 communities radically change how their homeless systems work and the impact they can achieve. By embracing the catalytic role of real-time data and shared accountability for reaching zero, more than half of those cities and counties have achieved dramatic reductions in the number of people experiencing chronic and veteran homelessness. 10 of those communities have proven they can end homelessness for one or both populations outright.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
There are so many things to love about Denver and Colorado! I love the energy and pioneer spirit. People are welcoming, community-minded, and innovative. My husband and I are huge live music fans and spend a lot of time at Red Rocks each summer. I also love a good craft beer and a day at Coors Field.

Digging a bit deeper, though, I think what I love most is also our biggest challenge. Because our city is so great, we are continuing to grow and everyone is feeling that crunch in some way whether it’s housing costs, impact on neighborhoods or traffic. But at the end of the day, people are paying attention – we all saw that in our recent election. And so while the challenges are great, I’m not betting against Denver anytime soon.

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Image Credit:
Emily Thomsen Photography, Matt Nager, Brendan McGowen, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness

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