LAKEWOOD, CO — Emotions ran high Thursday at Alameda High School, where staff from Colorado Coalition for the Homeless answered questions about their proposal for a $120 million, 600-unit low-income and homeless housing complex on surplus federal property in Lakewood. More than 150 residents came to ask questions and comment on the proposal, which was given conditional approval last month by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
Residents for and against the proposal lined up to give public comment to staff from the coalition. Several complained about potential drug usage and security problems with a site among the largest homeless housing locations in the nation.
“I’ve got kids out here my grandson if he gets even close to one of those needles from someone hitting up that’s on your shoulders buddy boy,” a resident said on a video taken of the event by CBS Denver 4.
In an interview with Patch, Coalition spokeswoman Cathy Alderman said those concerns are not unusual among neighbors and have shown up when the coalition has proposed its 19 other housing projects, including a nine-acre site built on federal surplus property at the former Lowry Air Force Base.
“This is the opposition that we encounter whenever we build in a community that traditionally has not had this kind of housing,” Alderman said. “The fears do tend to be the same. But once we build and get people stabilized and in a community, those fears rarely materialize.”
Alderman said getting people experiencing homelessness into housing and hooked up with “wraparound services” brings behavioral changes.
“Once we stabilize them in housing, those issues tend to mitigate themselves and go away,” Alderman said. “When people have community, and have dignity in their home, they’re no longer forced to engage in those types of behaviors.”
Some of the commenters worried about possible environmental hazards leftover from the government’s former use of part of the parcel as a munitions factory and capped landfill. Alderman said the capped landfill area would be used as a solar collector area. She said the Colorado Dept. of Health and Environment has approved the proposed building site as safe for habitation. The parcel was initially auctioned last year as a site for commercial and residential development, until CCFH sued to block the auction, saying homeless housing had first dibs under the federal McKinney-Vento Act.
Phase 1 for the first two years of the plan includes temporary shelter for around 200 people, in container housing trailers, domes and temporary barrack shelters, the coalition has said. Phase 2 would include five buildings with different unit configurations to house veterans, the disabled, the elderly and families, she said.
Alderman said residents would be admitted by referral from social services agencies and would most likely be Lakewood or Jefferson County residents.
“The people who are now living in streets and alleys and parks and in their cars now [in Lakewood] go to Denver for shelter and services, because there are better resources there,” Alderman said. “We know the need is high in Jefferson County.”
The coalition has built more than 1,800 units of homeless and transitional housing throughout Metro Denver, John Parvensky told the Lakeview City Council in January. “We design properties to look and operate like market-rate housing.”
Even though 59 acres is larger than any other project they have worked on, Alderman said federal laws require that the entire parcel be used for homeless services.
“We are continuing to explore ways we could have mixed-income and mixed-use development, but we are restrained by the federal law which doesn’t make provisions for that,” she said. “We’re having those conversations and trying to figure out policy or partnership solutions.” Something similar happened at Lowry, she said.
Once scenario would be a piece of federal legislation that broke up the parcel or allowed other uses. But “we’re just beginning to have those conversations.”
Alderman said the next step is submitting a financing plan to the HHS by March 9. Until then, the coalition will not be holding any more public meetings, but staff will be available to talk to other groups, she said.
“We do want to continue this conversation. We understand there are fears, we want to help address those fears. One of our missions and goals is to reduce the stigma attached to people experiencing homelessness, or who need affordable housing,” she said. “The only way to do that is to dialogue.”
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Image via Colorado Coalition for the Homeless