DougCo spends $200K to buy temporary housing for homeless

Mike McKibbin
Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver | June 15, 2022

[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] Douglas County will purchase temporary housing shelters for those experiencing homelessness after the county commissioners approved spending over $206,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money.

The county will buy 17 shelters and a 400-square-foot services center from Pallet, a public benefit corporation working to end unsheltered homelessness and give people a second chance at employment, according to the company's website.

The shelters offer temporary housing, case management from a local service provider, substance abuse, job and mental health counseling. County officials recently toured a Pallet location in Aurora.

Location, storage sites unknown

The commissioners approved the purchase on a 2-1 vote at a Monday work session. Commissioner Lora Thomas was opposed.

However, the county does not have a location for the shelters. Earlier this month, the county considered a site next to the county justice center in Castle Rock, but town council members opposed the plan.

Jennifer Eby, assistant director of community services, added the county does not have a building with enough space to store the shelters. She proposed the county look at leasing commercial storage space but did not have a cost estimate for that space.

Eby said each unit includes a 240-volt electric hook-up kit and bunk beds with mattresses. She noted portable generators could be attached to shelters in remote locations.

Pallet offered bathrooms with twin stalls, but the commissioners declined to include the units. Portable toilets will be placed with the shelters instead.

Shelters allow code enforcement

"The county is not interested in building residential communities for the homeless or creating encampments," Commissioner Abe Laydon said. "We're looking to support code enforcement and state law requires a place for people to go."

The county formed Homeless Engagement, Assistance and Response Teams, or HEART earlier this year. They include a social worker and a law enforcement officer to help people experiencing homelessness.

Laydon said the teams could not enforce county codes and address encampments unless the county provided temporary shelters.

He said the Pallet shelters offer "clean, aesthetic shelter, with case management in a secure setting."

However, Laydon said the shelters were not a "panacea or an end all, be all" solution to the county's homelessness.

Shelters can help in emergencies

The commissioners also discussed the use of the structures in emergencies such as wildfires, floods or winter weather incidents.

Commissioner George Teal noted this year's 20th anniversary of the Hayman fire. He said if the county experienced such an emergency now, "everyone who's in one of these shelters should be told they have to find another option so we can move these shelters to a response area. Especially if we have an emergency that involves our taxpayers."

Eby said that might mean the county would provide emergency motel vouchers for those in the shelters.

Thomas said she liked the Pallets proposal but voted against the purchase until she saw some results from the HEART teams.

"We're putting the cart before the horse," she stated.

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Mike McKibbin is an independent journalist on Colorado's Front Range and covers Douglas County for NewsBreak.

Denver, CO

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