By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Aurora, Colo.) The city of Aurora pays $6,000 per month to buy fuel for the generator powering one of the city's safe outdoor spaces for the homeless.
Meanwhile, council member Francois Bergen says she's concerned that the safe outdoor spaces will become permanent. The City Council discussed the safe outdoor spaces during its Monday study session but took no action.
Aurora has three safe outdoor spaces: A collection of tents, a parking lot filled with pallet shelters, and a safe parking space. The council approved opening the areas in October. The program will cost $1.2 million to operate through March 31.
Bergen thought the city would activate the spaces only during cold weather. "Now I'm hearing we're going to keep them permanently."
Demand for shelter outweighs supply
Lana Dalton, the city's homelessness manager, wouldn't say the shelters will be open permanently. But she said if the city closed them now, it would only have 150 shelter beds for 600 people experiencing homelessness.
"We have a large unsheltered population, and we really have limited access to any sort of shelter for these folks," Dalton said.
Complaints about homeless encampments doubled between 2020 and 2021, she said. But eliminating the safe outdoor spaces likely would create more encampments.
The safe parking space is at 15660 E. 6th Avenue. The lot holds 36 vehicles. So far, the city has referred 61 vehicles to the lot, which Colorado Safe Parking Initiative runs. Some people staying at the lot are area wildfire victims, Dalton said.
The lot offers one meal per week, laundry services, a computer room, an outhouse, and more. The safe outdoor spaces do not tolerate substance use, Dalton said.
The city has placed more than 40 percent of the outdoor space dwellers in permanent housing since the program began in November, Dalton said.
Pallet homes are successful
Dalton said that the average stay at a safe outdoor space is between 60 and 90 days; Dalton said, adding the pallet homes are particularly successful.
"They can actually rest and sleep; they're not so cold that causes people to get up," Dalton said.
The Salvation Army runs the sanctioned tent community at 11701 E. 33rd Ave. But the 25 tents got cold, which led to high heating costs.
Dalton said she is searching for an alternative to the generator because the "astronomical electrical costs" aren't sustainable.
Council member Juan Marcano suggested the city expand the pallet shelter program.
The Salvation Army manages 30 pallet shelters at East 33rd Avenue and Peoria Street.