City of Aurora rings in new marijuana-funded homeless resource center with celebration, services

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    AURORA |Above all else, Craig Williams was on the hunt for a fresh pair of socks to slide into is black-and-green Nike sneakers.

    “I wanted to get socks, and I wanted to get some information about certain things like dental and medical, stuff like that,” said Williams, a 50-year-old California native who’s been living in Aurora’s Comitis Crisis Center for about the past eight months.

    But after a fresh haircut from a Great Clips stylist and a hamburger teeming with yellow mustard courtesy of the Salvation Army, Williams walked away with much more than just a new pair of foot garments.

    “I got a bag of all kinds of goodies, and the hamburger was very good,” said Williams, a former construction worker currently working as a day laborer.

    Williams was one of hundreds of people who received a slew of services, including haircuts, food, housing information, hygienic supplies and, yes, socks, at a first-of-its-kind event in north Aurora Tuesday.

    Dozens of homeless service providers assembled on the corner of East 19th Avenue and Wheeling Street for the first-ever gathering of Aurora Homeless Connect, a local rendition of the national effort that offers a full suite of homeless services in cities throughout the country all year long.

    The event was the brainchild of this year’s Leadership Aurora Class, an annual cohort of local professionals organized by the Aurora Chamber of Commerce.

    The group, composed of about 40 local leaders, wanted to create a legacy project in the city that addressed homeless, according to Dave Leski, an operations manager at Wagner Equipment Company and project manager of the recent homeless outreach event.

    “We basically said, ‘Hey, can we leverage what Denver does and steal some of (their) ideas and people and Aurora-ize it?’” Leski said.

    Denver’s version of the event has been held for the past several years in November at the Colorado Convention Center. And just like the newly established event in Aurora, hundreds of volunteers are personally matched with people experiencing homelessness to help guide them through the process.

    Members of the Leadership Aurora class worked with Mile High United Way to draw up a blueprint for the new event in Aurora.

    The gathering in north Aurora Tuesday also provided a snapshot of what will be a regular occurrence at a nondescript building on the University of Colorado Anschutz medical campus. Aurora Homeless Connect was the unofficial open house for the city’s brand new Day Resource Center, a soon-to-be daytime home base for the city’s homeless population.

    Housed in a former Aurora Police Department gymnasium on East 19th Avenue, the 11,000-square-foot space was renovated using $900,000 of the city’s retail marijuana tax revenues from 2016, according to Shelley McKittrick, the city’s director of homelessness.

    “We felt like it was a good way to get both the providers and the folks who need the services at the Day Resource Center in the door to get comfortable with the space,” she said. “On July 17, we open the doors for real, and some of these providers will be here regularly, some will be here monthly or weekly and others will be here when we ask them to come.”

    The facility, which will provide job preparation services, a computer lab and resting areas, will help fill a gaping hole in the city’s continuum of homeless services, according to James Gillespie with Comitis Crisis Center.

    “The hope is that when people exit Comitis during the day they have an opportunity to do something productive,” Gillespie said. “Hopefully, that’s really getting out and coming over to the Day (Resource) Center.”

    Slated to be open every day of the year from about 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the resource center will provide a workforce development center, office space and napping areas for people who decide to drop-in.

    While numbers are yet to be determined, McKittrick said she expects a few hundred people to use the facility each day after it officially opens July 17.

    And although Williams said he likely won’t make it to the center often due to his daytime work schedule, he said he’s excited about the new resources the space will afford and is looking forward to lending a hand at the facility in the future.

    “That’s what I’ve learned in these past eight months: the homeless need help — we all need help,” he said. “I never thought I would be here, but I am and I need help. And I appreciate it  — I really do.”