Aurora, CO

Aurora spends $600,000 on pallet homes, expanding services for homeless

David Heitz

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Mike Coffman/City of Aurora

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver (Denver, Colo.) The Aurora City Council voted unanimously Monday to hire more staff at two Safe Outdoor Space sites, add 30 pallet shelters and expand services to people experiencing homelessness.

The decision comes as Douglas County sheriff's deputies drive people experiencing homelessness to Aurora when released from jail. Douglas County commissioners claim Aurora's camping ban pushed homeless people into their jurisdiction. The commissioners recently voted against adding pallet shelters, with some saying the accommodations would attract homeless people from Aurora.

Aurora city staff has worked since May 2022 with the providers of safe outdoor spaces. The city plans to add 30 additional pallet shelters, including 10 at Salvation Army, 738 Peoria St., and 20 at Restoration Christian Ministries, 15640 E. 6th Ave. The city plans to install the new shelters later this month.

Substance abuse treatment

Safe outdoor spaces are pallet homes or tent communities on vacant or parking lots. The camps are fenced and provide around-the-clock supervision, restrooms and showers. They also offer wraparound services such as mental health care, substance abuse treatment and case management to help stabilize clients.

"The Salvation Army has been operating both sites and needs additional resources and staffing in order to increase capacity," said Jessica Prosser, Aurora's director of housing and community services, in a memo to council. The plan calls for adding three shelter staff members and a case manager. Prosser said that the new agreement would run through Dec. 31 and cost Aurora about $600,000.

Council cool to spending money

In the past, most council members have been lukewarm about providing more homeless housing. Pallet shelters are more expensive than other options like ice fishing tents. At one meeting, Mayor Mike Coffman suggested people experiencing homelessness pitch their own tents in a safe outdoor space.

Prosser reminded the council in a memo that on Feb. 28, the council passed "a resolution expressing the Aurora City Council's support to have sufficient shelter options for individuals and families in an unauthorized camp." In May, the city revealed it only had 10 mats for people displaced during encampment sweeps. Courts ruled that cities must offer beds for displaced people to enforce a camping ban.

Jurinsky wants homeless to double up

On Monday, councilmember Danielle Jurinsky said she wants two people in each pallet shelter to maximize space. When Prosser said it’s not a good idea to put two people from different camps in one shelter, Jurinsky asked whether there are “homeless gang turf wars.”

Prosser responded the pallet shelters are tiny. She said putting two people who don’t know each other well in a tight space can be a recipe for disaster. “I’m a firm believer in beggars can’t be choosers,” Jurnisky replied. She also wanted to make sure the city limits length of stays at the pallet shelters. Aurora will allow a displaced camper to stay seven days in the pallet shelter, longer if they are actively working with a case manager, Prosser said.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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