Danielle Kestenbaum sits on a mattress next to her pile of posessions Jan. 16 at the Comitis Crisis Center in Aurora. Kestenbaum and 40 other homeless individuals filled Comitis' emergency overnight cold weather shelter to capacity Tuesday night. Comitis Crisis Center is part of Aurora@Home, a city-wide initiative to make a positive impact in the homeless population. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | A city program will begin to dole out money to help Aurora’s homeless population within the next few weeks as officials from shelters say they are overcrowding.

At an Aurora City Council Quality of Life Committee meeting Jan. 15, city officials said they’re working to make a positive impact in the city’s homeless population with the Aurora@Home initiative.

The program has raised $73,000 from local nonprofit organizations, with another $84,000 available for short-term rental and deposit assistance for renters at risk of becoming homeless, said Craig Maraschky, executive director of the Aurora Housing Authority. That money could be distributed as soon as mid-February to help the city’s homeless, he said.

“Everybody is stepping up and trying to make this a focus,” he said.

The Aurora@Home program was developed in 2010 and includes 15 different organizations whose goal is to connect homeless people to housing resources. Those organizations include the Comitis Crisis Center, Aurora Housing Authority, Aurora Mental Health, Arapahoe and Adams county human services’ divisions, and Metro Community Provider Network.

Dave Meyers, president and chief executive of the Metro Community Provider Network, will be focusing this year on ways to continue helping the city’s homeless in the long-term.

“I’m in charge of trying to figure out future funding,” he told members of the Quality of Life Committee. “I’ve done it for 30 years now and I think I do it
very well.”

Aurora will conduct its point-in-time survey Jan. 29 that will count the number of homeless within the city. Statistics from the 2012 survey show there were 1,051 homeless people in the city when the survey was conducted on Jan. 23. That includes people who were in transitional housing, sleeping on the street or in a car, staying at a family or friend’s house, motel or hotel, emergency shelter or youth shelter.

It’s unclear whether the number of homeless will increase or decrease from that number this year. However, employees at nonprofit organizations say they have seen an increase over the years in the number of homeless people needing a place to stay for the night.

James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the Mile High Council/Comitis Crisis Center said there has been a 38 percent increase in homelessness over the past five years in the city.

Gillespie expects the number of homeless people needing a place to stay for the night to double in 2013.

In 2012, Comitis Crisis Center served 644 clients and saw about 1,100 overnight stays. Gillespie expects the number of overnight stays in 2013 to be between 2,200 and 2,500.

“Our shelter has been busting at the seams,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie said part of the reason for the increase in Aurora’s homeless population is Denver’s ban on homeless camping, which was passed in May 2012.

“The camping ban in Denver has caused homeless people to migrate down Colfax and into Arapahoe and Adams counties,” Gillespie said.

Denver’s ban makes it unlawful for anyone to “camp” — or sleep — overnight on public or private city land and carries a $999 fine and jail time of up to one year. Aurora doesn’t have a general anti-camping ordinance that applies citywide, but it does have policies that prohibit staying overnight in city parks and prohibit loitering overnight in the Colfax Corridor, according to city attorneys.

City officials have a different perspective on the impact of Denver’s camping ban on Aurora. Kim Stuart, spokeswoman the city of Aurora, said the city has not seen an increase in homeless people from Denver crossing into

When Aurora conducts its next homeless point-in-time survey on Jan. 29, city officials will attempt to understand where homeless people are coming from and where they are staying. This year’s survey will ask people to recall the zip code for the area where they spent the previous night, and the zip code of their last previous residence.

According to 2012 survey statistics, Aurora’s 1,051 homeless people is about 8 percent of the 12,605 homeless men, women and children in the Denver metro area.

About 700 people, or 67 percent of the total homeless in Aurora, were in some household with children younger than 18 years old.

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or sara@aurorasentinel.com.