Host of agencies eye former Excelsior campus for new program for homeless families

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AURORA | A bevy of local organizations, advocates and government leaders are hoping to help the increasing number of families without adequate housing with a residential program that focuses on getting resources and services to children and their parents.

Proponents say the program is more than just a shelter.

While leaders involved in the program say plans are still tentative, Arapahoe County documents indicate the former Excelsior Campus in Aurora  is the preferred site for the program. Excelsior focused on youth services for decades, but it closed in September.

The campus could open early next year, planners say. Leaders also say they anticipate having several conversations with the community about the program as plans progress.

Cheryl Ternes, Director of the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services, said the program — officially called GOALS, the Generation Opportunities to Achieve Long-term Success — is a truly innovative approach.

The new facility is expected to accept clients on a referral basis from local agencies such as the city, county, law enforcement, schools or faith-based organizations. Ternes said some of the services those organizations will offer may even be on the campus, such as a daycare that operates during non-traditional hours, allowing parents to apply for a variety of jobs.

The program, facilitated by Wheat Ridge-based Family Tree  is designed as a two-generation approach, said the organization’s CEO, Scott Shields. Many homeless programs focus solely on getting adults back on their feet or just on children, which can sometimes require very different services. Family Tree’s program is one that focuses on an array of challenges a family might meet when they’re experiencing homelessness.

“Sometimes we take this approach that if we can stabilize the parents, then that’s good for the kids, and that’s true,” he said. “But there is a much more robust approach we can take.”

Even identifying a family that needs help can be difficult because each situation can be slightly different.

“Families (that) experience homelessness are often sleeping in a car or at a shelter,” said Shelley McKittrick, the homeless program director for the city of Aurora. “Or they’re doubled or tripled up with family. They may have placed the kids somewhere more stable.”

The vacancy rate in Aurora hovers around 5 percent, according to Family Tree. And the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,500. The Housing and Urban Development fair market rent subsidy for a two-bedroom apartment comes in at $1,418 each month.

McKittrick is on a leadership group that meets every few months about the proposed program and its potential coming to Aurora. While the city hasn’t pledged any backing for the transitional housing project yet, she said it’s a service that Aurora needs and would welcome.

“We just don’t have enough shelter — to have shelter alone is not the answer — (we need) services,” she said.

Ternes said Arapahoe County is especially excited about the project.

“Ending the cycle of poverty is a huge quest of ours and this will help us do that,” she said.

This would be the second transitional housing project to plant roots in Aurora this year. Earlier this year, Boulder-based Bridge House announced it will redevelop an office building at 3176 S. Peoria Court into its Ready To Work program.

The city offered Bridge House $575,000 to secure funding for the project in February. Then, Aurora City Council said there’s enough money from additional sales tax revenue on retail marijuana to cover that cost and $2.9 million for additional projects related to homelessness in 2018.