It doesn’t look like much now, but the lifeless 22,000 square-f00t office building at the corner of Peoria Street and Parker Road will soon be home to 50 people who otherwise might not have a shot at escaping homelessness.
The Ready to Work program, which also operates transitional housing in Boulder, will offer housing, services and work opportunities for 36 men and 14 women by March. By the end of the year the program will hopefully be able to house 25 people, said Bridge House Executive Director Isabel McDevitt.
The goal of the program is to provide the participants, who may or may not have a criminal history, with a place to stay for a year while they build up skills and work experience. Then they’re able to return to the workforce full time and, even more, they’re able to live a life off the streets.
Participants start out as interns, and if successful move into the program, where they’re required to be sober and take advantage of services offered at the facility.
McDevitt has been working with Aurora city staff and officials for close to two years to be able to set up the program in Aurora. This year the city committed $575,000 of recreational marijuana revenue to the program.
The vision for the program is finally coming to life, said Brian Arnold, who McDevitt tapped for director of the Aurora program earlier this year. The program hit a snag in 2017 when Aurora City Council passed an amended ordinance that banned congregate living facilities from operating within 300 feet of a school, keeping the program from moving into a former bingo hall off East Colfax Avenue.
This location, tucked in at the Aurora-Denver border, allows for more participants than the former proposed location, and is close to the Nine Mile light rail station and plenty of bus stops. On the employment front, McDevitt said there’s lots of interest from the Aurora parks and open space department.
Ready to Work has already had a couple of crews working with the city, at the annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ event earlier this month and some painting around city facilities.
As he weaved in and around construction workers, Arnold pointed out where new bathrooms and showers would go, where the participants of the program would have a bedroom, and the open space and future kitchen area on the third floor.
Bridge House, which runs the Ready To Work programs, raised $3.9 million for capital costs.
Arnold, who’s dabbled in city politics, is best known for his executive director role at Aurora Warms the Night, a non-profit organization that offers services such as winter kits and laundry to Aurora’s homeless population.
“I wasn’t really looking to do something else,” Arnold said. But McDevitt made a deal he said he couldn’t refuse. Aurora Warms the Night is going all mobile, he added. And they’ll be able to partner with Ready to Work.
Ready to Work will employ 21 people, according to Arnold. Because it’s a 24-7 facility, there will always be staff around.
“For Aurora this is a big deal,” Arnold said. “It really is.”
McDevitt said the Boulder program was gearing for a graduation ceremony the next day — 44 people were to be recognized for completing the program. The year before, 48 graduated.
Arnold said being involved in homelessness issues has given him an inside look at what would really serve as a solution in Aurora, and this program is part of it, he said. McDevitt, sporting a hardhat and construction glasses, looked around the space and smiled.
“The cool part about our model is that we’re so self-contained,” she said. “The general ingredients are all here.”
Upon opening, the staff at Ready to Work will host a community meeting. Those details are still in the works.