Aurora hires director for homelessness program

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AURORA | City officials announced Thursday, Aug. 11, that Shelley McKittrick will serve as the city’s first homeless program director to serve Aurora’s homeless and at-risk populations.

According to a press release, McKittrick will lead efforts to develop the city’s comprehensive approach to homelessness through collaborations with city departments, other government agencies, and local nonprofit organizations, including [email protected], a program that addresses affordable housing with individualized service and case management for families in need.

Shelley McKittrick
Shelley McKittrick

The move is part of a plan by the city to use millions in recreational marijuana sales revenues over the next three years to help the city’s growing homeless population.

Since 2012, McKittrick was director of programs for the Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz County, Calif., where she oversaw three shelters, a medical respite program, a transitional housing program, a day services center and other Housing First services. She also has worked in the Aurora area for People with AIDS Coalition Colorado, Denver HIV Resources Planning Council, and Project Angel Heart, according to the release.

“Aurora sits in three counties, spans five school districts and is growing rapidly. It is essential that we gather all of the stakeholders together to coordinate our efforts to assure pathways to stable housing, with effective supportive services, for families and individuals experiencing homelessness,” McKittrick said in a statement. “I look forward to helping bring all these folks together to develop achievable solutions focused on people’s economic, physical, mental and social well-being.”

At a spring workshop in April, City Council members agreed to put $45,000 of that $4.5 million toward making the Aurora Housing Authority’s part-time landlord coordinator a full-time position.

One of the big challenges with housing the homeless is getting a landlord to take them, said Craig Maraschky, executive director of the Aurora Housing Authority, at the meeting. He said the AHA hired a part-time coordinator three months ago, who had so far only been able to house seven or eight families due to the lack of vacancies and willing landlords.

“Addressing homelessness is a priority of the City Council,” said Aurora City Manager George “Skip” Noe in a statement.  “We know that this issue affects not just Aurora but the metro area as a whole. Continuing the work of [email protected], and building partnerships with the Denver Metro Homeless Initiative, Denver’s Road Home, Close to Home, the Metro Mayors Caucus and our local service providers will be an important effort for this new position. Shelley McKittrick really impressed us with her ability to rally people around shared goals and with her knowledge of HUD funding sources and client-centered programs.”

At the spring meeting, Aurora City Council also agreed to give $220,000 to Colfax Community Network for operating expenses through the year’s end. The nonprofit educates low-income families living in motels and apartments along the Colfax corridor about helpful community services.

James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison at Comitis Crisis Center in Aurora, said it’s too soon to tell whether the increasing number of homeless in Aurora is due to any one factor.

But he said Comitis has seen its Aurora shelter filled beyond capacity several times this year. For the first few months of this year, Gillespie said the shelter was at 108 percent capacity with its 139 beds. He said the shelter was able to provide more room than the 139 beds because staff removed tables from the dining room to put down mattresses and cots during cold-weather alerts.

“In the first three months of 2016, we had our beds full and we had 2,976 incidences of being at capacity,” Gillespie said, which means 2,976 times an individual was turned away. “Already in the first quarter of this year, we have seen more instances of turn-away than all instances of turn-away during the first six months of last year.”

Unlike Denver, Aurora is not enforcing an urban camping ban, but is instead attempting to provide more resources for homeless people coming to the city.