AURORA | The Aurora City Council unanimously approved funds Monday for a temporary outdoor homeless shelter in order to gather data on the feasibility of permanently running a safe camping site for the city’s unhoused residents.
The site, located at 11701 East 33rd Ave., will be able to accommodate up to 35 people, according to city documents. The city is using nearly $250,000 of its federal CARES grant funds to run the 90-day pilot program.
The funds will pay for one-time set up costs — such as shade tents, fencing, lighting and staff training — and three months of operating costs, which includes food, water and utlitities. Six full-time staff will work at the site.
“This project is a priority due to the sheer lack of sheltering options and wrap around services needed to assist those experiencing homelessness in our community,” city staffers wrote of the temporary site.
The city estimates there are about 150 available shelter beds for approximately 427 individuals experiencing homelessness. An emergency shelter operated by Mile High Behavioral Health Care opened in December 2020 to accommodate the city’s unhoused throughout the winter during the pandemic. It provided space for about 100 people per night and cost the city $185,000 per month to run. It, too, was funded through federal pandemic relief funds.
It closed in April when the lease for the site ended.
Most recently a safe parking site opened at Restoration Christian Fellowship, a dream of Pastor Felix Gilbert who died earlier this year.
“By incorporating a safe outdoor space pilot into the community of Aurora, we are providing organized, alternative sheltering solutions that connect individuals to safe places to be, where they have access to portlets, handwashing stations, garbage disposal, food the appropriate level of services (housing, medical, case management, clinical services, etc.) needed to move out of homelessness,” say city staff.
In recent months city council members have clashed over how to reduce homelessness in Aurora. Last month, Mayor Mike Coffman vowed to introduce an urban camping ban, which is currently making its way through city policy committees.
So far, local public safety officials have been skeptical of having a role in enforcing the ban if it is passed into law.
“I really would be concerned about the enforcement piece as far as us looking as though we are criminalizing the fact that people are experiencing homelessness,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said in a recent city meeting. “ … I just want to make sure that we’re used in the most minimal way.”
At the new city-sanctioned camping site, city staff say they will connect the city’s unhoused to the “most appropriate services for them, and assist them with gaining permanent housing solutions through the use of medical staff, case managers, therapists and volunteers.”
After 90 days of the pilot program, staff will return to council to evaluate whether to continue running the site.