By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Aurora, Colo.) Aurora lawmakers and city staff, freshly back from San Antonio, are offering mixed reviews of that city’s massive homeless center called Haven of Hope.
Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, Councilmembers Dustin Zvonek, Steve Sundberg, Juan Marcano, and Danielle Jurinsky, along with City Manager Jim Twombly, returned Monday. Coffman and Marcano posted photos of the 37-acre complex on social media. The homeless services and housing center is located in an industrial area of San Antonio.
“Haven's campus is impressive,” Marcano posted on Twitter. “The brown-roofed structures were existing warehouses in a blighted part of town where the unhoused congregated.”
It cost $101 million to build the massive complex, which includes permanent supportive housing. It costs $25 million per year to operate the massive campus.
In photos, the concept appears institutional and drab in areas. “Immediately out of the courtyard the building feels like a detention facility,” Marcano said. “Poor lighting, dingy, poor air circulation, and unwelcoming. I'm hoping this gets improved in the future.”
Aurora lawmakers including Coffman, Marcano and Alison Coombs visited Houston earlier this month. That city took a different approach to housing people experiencing homelessness, using HUD vouchers after a hurricane. Formerly homeless people live in properties scattered throughout the city instead of at a facility.
“A significant difference between Haven and Houston is coordinated entry,” Marcano Tweeted. “Haven uses their private flexible funds as a workaround to HUD's coordinated entry program and is thrifty with housing options, which means longer stays on the campus.”
Homeless groups separated
In San Antonio, homeless clients at New Haven graduate from one part of the facility to another if they participate in services such as addiction treatment and mental health care. “Beyond that the campus enters the ‘transformation’ phase, which feels more like a high school,” Marcano Tweeted. “Once folks enter into the program their conditions immediately improve. They mentioned that they bring people here on tours to encourage them to accept services.” The third section of the complex is reserved for families.
Marcano said San Antonio leaders explained they would design the facility differently in hindsight. They admitted the staged phases create barriers to permanent housing.
Coffman ready to tackle homelessness
Coffman posted on Facebook that the Haven for Hope campus also serves the poor who are struggling but not homeless. ”Like Houston, it is based on a Housing First model which states that the most important first step is simply getting the homeless off the streets and into housing before you can address their other needs such as addiction recovery and mental health,” Coffman said. “However, unlike Houston that provides free apartments, spread throughout the city, for up to 24 months, Haven for Hope is all on one sprawling campus and divided into three principal areas intentionally separated from one another.”
Coffman said he’s now ready to develop a plan for addressing homelessness for Aurora. “I’ve visited nationally recognized programs in Houston and San Antonio as well as programs in Colorado Springs, Denver, and in Aurora,” he posted on Facebook. “From all that I’ve seen, I’m now ready to put pen to paper to chart a course for addressing the problem of homelessness in our city.”