Aurora, CO

Aurora slashes seed money for proposed homeless campus

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Aurora, Colo.) A planned $91 million homeless services campus in Aurora may be in jeopardy after the City Council voted to slash its funding.

A proposal to use $15 million in American Rescue Plan money to seed the project never got off the ground. Mayor Pro Tem Francoise Bergan made a motion to slash the funding to $5 million before staff presented information. Bergan noted, and most of the council agreed, that they had discussed everything already.

But in voting to reduce the funding for the campus, she said, "I'm not even sure about the campus yet. I need a whole lot more information."

Republican Mayor Mike Coffman joined the council's Democratic bloc: Crystal Murillo, Ruben Medina, Allison Coombes and Juan Marcano, to vote against the motion.

Marcano said discussion about the campus is not for the council but the news media and people watching at home. Still, the council voted to skip the presentation, with the Democratic bloc again voting no.

"ARPA legislation overview and spending ideas have been discussed at previous council workshops and study sessions in 2021," city staff reported. "In addition, staff presented this information through individual meetings with council members."

State ready to chip in money

According to Jessica Prosser, program manager for Aurora, the state supports the homeless campus project. Colorado pledged millions of dollars to the project, but only if the local and county governments chip in 25 percent of the total cost.

According to a city document provided to the council, the campus would cost between $91 million and $135 million to build.

City staff proposed spending at least $10 million to ensure the city would have a good start meeting matching fund requirements.

According to a city staff report, there are 594 homeless people in Aurora but only 150 shelter beds. The proposed campus would meet the city's needs.

Campus would include three buildings

"This campus was imagined having a building with three distinct segments," according to the city staff report. The campus would occupy five acres where the Aurora homeless day resource center sits.

One segment would be a tower that would provide apartments for permanent supportive housing. Case managers and health care workers would be available for residents.

The second segment would be a 20,000-square-foot day resource center. It would include a 6,200-square-foot dining and sleeping area, commercial laundry facilities, a commercial kitchen, offices, storage, and multipurpose spaces.

The final segment would be a tower that would provide temporary shelter space and limited medical care. The 40,000-square-foot, four-story tower would provide 400 beds.

Council unlikely to ask voters for money

In addition to the American Rescue Plan money, the city could consider paying for the homeless campus by issuing bonds or raising taxes.

Neither had much support from the Republican-controlled council.

Council members met Saturday to decide how to spend $65 million in rescue plan money. Bergan repeatedly suggested reducing funding to the cold weather activation shelter for the homeless, too.

The council is about to consider banning urban camping, and the courts have told other cities they must provide places for displaced urban campers.

The council likely will pass an urban camping ban now that it has enough Republicans who support it. Mayor Mike Coffman breaks tie votes in favor of Republican proposals.

Money approved for substance abuse recovery center

The council also voted to spend $1.5 million on a project that the state has already pledged $45 million. The money would transform the former Ridge View Youth Services Center into a supportive residential community.

"A portion of the community's campus will be for individuals over the age of 18 years experiencing homelessness who wish to focus on recovery and stabilization before securing permanent housing," according to a city staff report.

"Another section of the campus aims to provide withdrawal management and inpatient residential treatment as medically necessary for the general population, prioritizing those experiencing homelessness and those utilizing transitional housing."

The facility would need regular funding from Aurora to operate. "The funding includes a portion of first-year operating costs for case management, safety, and facilities maintenance, which will need to be paired with Medicaid reimbursements as well as local funding or existing programs and resources," the staff report explains.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career at local newspapers. Today, I report on Denver and Aurora city halls for NewsBreak. Prior to joining NewsBreak, I worked several years as a health reporter and branded content writer in the healthcare space. I also worked many years as a news editor and city editor. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver.

Denver, CO
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