Aurora closes quarantine hotel for homeless residents

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AURORA | After five months, the city of Aurora’s quarantine hotel for people without housing closed after new COVID-19 virus cases slowed to a trickle among the area homeless population, officials said. 

Over the summer, the Aurora Emergency Respite Center, a Quality Inn located at 1011 S. Abilene St., gradually housed fewer and fewer homeless residents with COVID-19 as well as elderly and ailing housing-insecure people at risk of succumbing to the virus, said Jessica Prosser, community development manager. 

That Quality Inn has resumed booking private rooms, and prior residents may opt to pay and remain there.

“We no longer have (COVID-19) cases,” said Bob Dorshimer, chief executive officer of Mile High Behavioral Healthcare, which operates a network of resources and staffed the Respite Center. “Aurora’s done well. We can actually close ours now.”

Dorshimer said the closure represents the success of COVID-19 prevention efforts in Aurora homeless shelters, including the Comitis Crisis Center. 

As the pandemic continues, Aurora-area residents experiencing homelessness with COVID-19 will be spread out in Denver metroplex facilities as part of a “regional approach” to protecting a population considered especially at-risk of contracting the new coronavirus. 

The Respite Center hadn’t received any new referrals for sick or at-risk people from area hospitals in weeks, according to Prosser. Of the handful of residents that remained, none were COVID-19 positive, she said. 

The Center opened in April amid the first wave of novel coronavirus cases. Then, Homelessness Program Director Shelley McKittrick said stay-at-home orders put homeless people between a rock and a hard place. Low-income residents of motels, for instance, were also at-risk of contracting COVID-19 in crowded rooms. 

During the spring and summer, putting homeless residents up in hotels evolved into a national and regional strategy to reduce viral spread. 

In Aurora, residents stayed at the Respite Center free of charge while waiting out the virus. Mile High and other service providers connected residents with food and healthcare. 

The City of Aurora gradually began buying fewer and fewer hotel rooms in June as part of a deal with the Quality Inn. This summer, the hotel management began booking rooms to private patrons again while the Respite Center operated. Prosser said that was possible because the Respite Center occupied a separate wing of the complex. 

The cost-sharing deal helped lower the cost of the operation, according to officials. Prosser also said Aurora taxpayer dollars weren’t spent on the Respite Center. Instead, the city tapped into federal CARES Act dollars. 

In June, the operation cost $146,000. That declined to $120,000 in July, according to Prosser. She said Monday the City hadn’t received an invoice for the final bill. 

Aurora CARES Act funds will now be spread across various cities in the Denver metroplex to temporarily house homeless residents, according to Dorshimer and Prosser. Dorshimer said COVID-19 infection rates among the homeless have also dropped in Denver. 

In Denver, homeless program managers have shuffled populations of homeless residents between the National Western Complex, the Denver Coliseum and hotel rooms. Individual rooms are still an option there for ill people and families who wouldn’t be accommodated by indoor shelters, Denverite reported.

The Denver city council also approved a new facility Monday in East Denver after calls for more shelter beds.