Bridge House vetted homeless program gives second try for Aurora site near Nine Mile Station

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AURORA | A homeless service provider that was edged out of opening a facility on East Colfax Avenue earlier this year after Aurora City Council passed exclusionary limits is hoping it will have better luck with a location near Nine Mile Station.

Bridge House, a Boulder-based non-profit agency, wants to replicate its Ready To Work program if it’s able to purchase the building at 3176 S. Peoria Court in Aurora, near Nine Mile light rail station. The organization would develop communal housing at the site to house up to 50 trainees in the program, which is meant to be a “stepping stone to a mainstream job.”

“Our model is housing-based solution and it is a workforce-based solution. We put people to work. They’re paid employees. They’re paying taxes like you and me,” said Bridge House Executive Director Isabel McDevitt. “This is not a drop-in facility. This is not a shelter. This is not a halfway house. These people may or may not have a history with the criminal justice system.”

Trainees are employed for up to 29 hours per week for nine months, and typically learn skills for landscaping and food service industries. Bridge House would like to partner with Aurora Parks, Recreation and Open Space to provide “supplemental crews to maintain local public spaces,” according to a summary of Bridge House’s perspective plans.

In July, city lawmakers decided on an amended ordinance that prevents congregate living facilities from operating within 300 feet of a school. Council members Francoise Bergan, Charlie Richardson, Sally Mounier and Angela Lawson voted against the 300-foot setback amendment.

The new location Bridge House is looking at would meet that new rule. But it also has an abundance of other perks too, McDevitt said.

“It’s in a good location, close to transit. It’s 22,000 square-feet, which gives enough room to convert it into housing for 50 people,” she said. “The price point is within our budget. We’ve raised $3 million from outside sources to benefit this project in Aurora. It’s connected enough to the community and isolated enough so we can have a standalone program to benefit the community and serve.”

But not all are thrilled about the prospect of having the program at its new proposed location. Former Ward IV councilwoman Molly Markert outlined concerns in an email to McDevitt last week.

“I will say personally that your choice of location is positively the worst possible in all of the city,” she wrote. “In addition to being in the midst of the Nine Mile Station area, already well  known for its criminal activity, your residents will be conveniently close to the Green Solution for their recreational marijuana.”

Markert also noted that the surrounding neighborhoods have “banded together for at least the past decade to assure the redevelopment of the Regatta Plaza shopping area is the highest class and quality befitting a gateway to the city.”

“Your program is not exactly what was envisioned, in my personal opinion,” she added.

Similarly, the program had its critics when Bridge House was eyeing the former bingo hall at the corner of East Colfax and Laredo Street in Ward II.

“A lot of these folks are re-entry men; this is not a program for families — it’s a program for men and some of those are re-entry men that came out of the criminal system,” Ward II Councilwoman Renie Peterson said in support of the amendment that squashed the first proposed location for the program earlier this year. “You really have to consider what happens: What do men do when they get out of jail? Where’s the first place … what do they look for? What do they do? Consider that.”

Markert told the Aurora Sentinel the program is “of course the right thing to do,” but “ the impact questions are yet to be addressed.”

“But as I say, I am not the voice for the area any more, and neighbors have to speak for themselves,” she said.

Richardson, the current councilman for Ward IV, said he’s been studying the program and believes it has merit.

“The project isn’t incompatible with all of that new development,” Richardson said of the planned improvements at Regatta Plaza. “My role will be to get everybody in communication with each other on this.”

McDevitt noted the planning is still in the early stages, but feels optimistic this time around.

“The difference between this time and last time is that last time we were caught up in the process being created while we were trying to go through it,” she said. “The good news is that there is a process to follow. The community will be involved and there will be a lot of vetting from elected officials.”

Bridge House is planning a community meeting about the projects and hopes to have a date and location set soon.