Aurora planning new winter shelter for homeless people

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Byron Shaw talks bout a recent sweep of a camp that at one time consisted of approximately 20 tents at its height of popularity, Sept. 10, 2020, in Aurora.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | To provide an indoor option for homeless residents and perhaps ameliorate outdoor encampments during the cold, wintry months ahead, Aurora officials are planning to open a new shelter next month.

Jessica Prosser, the city’s community development manager, told the Sentinel the city is negotiating a lease for the new space. It’s not clear where the shelter will be, but it could be open from November to April, she said, and not just on cold nights or during blizzards.

Currently, facilities run by Mile High Behavioral Healthcare including the Day Resource Center open up during cold snaps.

But during the pandemic, shelter space has become a hot commodity because of social distancing requirements slashing capacities. It’s one factor likely contributing to the proliferation of outdoor encampments in Aurora and beyond.

Plus, the city has opted not to break up encampments unless they present a public health or safety risk and grow too large. The city removed a large encampment in Spencer Garrett park in August.

Prosser said a new shelter would “give people an option to come inside and have a safe place to park…especially for the cold months.”

Federal funding has buoyed the city’s response to COVID-19 and homelessness programming. This effort would be paid for with a federal Emergency Solutions Grant the city is taking advantage of. Officials have planned to spend $2.25 million of those dollars on a “continuum of care” including the shelter, homeless prevention, outreach, rapid re-housing and employing housing “navigators” to help people get off the streets.

Prosser said the city hasn’t smoothed out details about how the shelter would operate. But staff would take all the usual measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 inside, she said.

Mayor Mike Coffman has said on social media the would-be shelter might allow city officials to break up more outdoor encampments.

“Aurora will be starting (a shelter) soon and my hope is that we can be more aggressive about closing down these encampments once we have an alternative place for them to go,” Coffman tweeted Monday.

Prosser said the city’s policy on encampments — which generally recommends to leave them be — hasn’t changed. The policy is based on viral containment guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The city can reconsider that policy in the future, she said.

Officials said they’ll have more details about the shelter to release in the weeks to come, when lease negotiations will be finished.