AURORA | City staffers who work with Aurora’s unhoused residents floated a plan Wednesday to phase-out the city’s emergency shelter — a north Aurora warehouse that’s the short-term home for about 100 people — and mull the creation of a sanctioned, outdoor campsite at a church.
Jessica Prosser, the city’s community development manager, and Homelessness Program Director Lana Dalton made the recommendations to the city council during a regularly-scheduled COVID-19 conference call Wednesday evening.
“We also are trying to mitigate having folks, sort of these 100 folks, just end up back out in encampments,” Prosser said. “I don’t think anybody really wants that, and we are certainly not looking to see a big uptick in, you know, calls for service and complaints about encampments.”
Lawmakers will have to sign off on any plans.
During the meeting, none of the city council members present objected to moving the discussion forward in the coming weeks, although Mayor Mike Coffman said he’s opposed to using so-called tiny homes and questioned whether temporary camps will prove useful.
The staffers said that the city should let its lease for the “E-Shelter” expire at the end of May. Lawmakers approved the site, at 3293 Oakland St., in part because social-distancing restrictions during the pandemic pushed people out of local homeless shelters and into outdoor encampments. It would cost the city double the roughly $185,000 per month to keep the site running, Dalton said, because they’d already signed a termination clause in the lease set for the end of April.
The operation has been buoyed by federal grants designed for pandemic-era homelessness relief operations.
After the E-Shelter closes, Prosser recommended that the city transitions between 50 and 80 people to the Aurora Day Resource Center. That’s usually just a shelter during daytime hours. Staff expect many homeless residents and the personnel who work with them at local shelters will be vaccinated by May, reducing the viral risk.
At least some of those homeless residents could then land in an official campsite on land owned by a local faith community, Dalton said. It’s an idea first pioneered in Las Cruces, New Mexico that has spread to other western communities grappling with homelesssness during the pandemic.
Typically, the so-called sanctioned camps provide high-tech tents, indoor heating elements and electricity for several dozen residents, who have to abide by rules.
Prosser emphasized that it’s not clear how a camp might look. Currently, a sanctioned campsite sits adjacent to the E-Shelter. The plot of 30 ice fishing tents is set aside as a quarantine spot for homeless people exposed to COVID-19 or who are deemed particularly vulnerable to the virus.
The city might replicate that campsite on a church’s property — or in several locations. Or, the city might only stand up a “safe parking spot” for RVs and campers. Dalton also floated the possibility of a tiny home village.
“Our faith-based community is extremely excited about this,” she said.
The homelessness chiefs told lawmakers that the camps offer an opportunity to effectively transition people from tents to housing. Instead of having to track down transient residents for a COVID-19 vaccine or to get them housing paperwork, case workers can quickly do the work and build rapport, Dalton said.
It’s not clear where the camp, or camps, may be.
Coffman, who has made homelessness a priority issue while sometimes drawing ire, pushed back on the idea that a sanctioned camp could help get people off the streets for good.
“If they have no desire to get up and go to work in the morning, I don’t know how you’re going to get into stable housing,” he said.
He also said he’s opposed to tiny homes.
“That’s a permanent structure, that’s not temporary,” he said.
Juan Marcano said tiny homes might be a “great” idea. No such tiny home village exists in Aurora.