Aurora, CO

Aurora debates options to house homeless

David Heitz
Mike Coffman/City of Aurora

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) The Aurora City Council discussed Monday discussed how best to house those moved from homeless encampments in so-called "safe outdoor spaces."

During a study session, most council members indicated they preferred the alternative over renovating the Aurora Day Resource Center. According to city staff, a renovated shelter could hold more than 100 people.

Safe outdoor spaces are communities of pallet homes or tents set up on vacant lots or parking lots. The camps have a fence around them and around-the-clock supervision. Wraparound services such as mental health care and case management help stabilize clients. Restrooms and showers are provided.

Mayor Mike Coffman and Mayor Pro Tem Francoise Bergan visited two pallet home communities already operating in Aurora. Bergan expressed satisfaction with data showing that 46 percent of those living in the pallet homes found employment. She said substance abuse treatment also occurs.

Long-term solutions needed, Gardner says

The average length of stay at the pallet homes is 82 nights at the Salvation Army, 738 Peoria St., and 51 nights at Restoration Christian Ministries, 15640 E. 6th Ave. The Salvation Army manages both sites.

Coffman and Bergan said the safe outdoor spaces cost less than renovating the Aurora Day Resource Center. But councilmember Curtis Gardner said the city must provide a permanent solution to homelessness.

He has been on the council for several years, and members always continually talked about finding permanent housing solutions but have made little progress.

State, federal money available

Bergan replied millions in federal and state dollars earmarked for long-term shelter solutions should make a difference. The city has never had this much money available, she said.

Coffman wants to find a permanent location for people experiencing homelessness "all on one campus, and the temporary sites would go away."

Gardner expressed skepticism. "I don't have a lot of faith we can come to a consensus on a long-term solution."

He asked staff how long pallet homes last. Jessica Prosser, homelessness and community services manager, said the company guarantees them for 10 years.

Tents not recommended

Prosser does not recommend using tents. She said they become hot in the summer and cost more to heat in the winter. Tent camps also don't qualify for some grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Tents also can be a fire hazard, so insurance for the camps is high, Prosser said. The tents cost less than pallet homes, which cost about $10,000 to install.

Prosser said the city might save money by adding 10 to 15 pallet homes at each site and using utilities already there.

Coffman wants the city to use tents it owns until it can buy more pallet shelters. Prosser said using tents should be a temporary solution.

New pallet homes could house up to 50

Pallet homes hold one or two people. If the city adds up to 25 pallet homes, as proposed, it could house about 50 more people.

The city must provide a place for people when it dismantles encampments as part of Aurora's urban camping ban. Without that provision, the ban could not survive a court challenge.

The city's homeless shelters are full, and it placed 10 mats on the floor of the Aurora Day Resource Center to accommodate people displaced during sweeps. The limited space for campers has made it impossible for Aurora to enforce its camping ban.

Prosser said pallet homes have a proven record. "Pallet homes have been very successful for people transitioning from encampments."

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO

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