NORTHGLENN, Colo. — When Paula Ordaz was approached about overseeing a temporary winter housing program in Northglenn, she said yes in a heartbeat.
"They told us to go ahead on December 7th, and we opened December 15th," she recalled.
Back in December, the Northglenn City Council approved the temporary use of the city's old recreation center for a winter housing program from December 2021 through March 2022.
Adams County is funding the program, while Denver Rescue Mission, which Ordaz is part of, is staffing it.
Citing data from Adams County, the city said in December that homelessness had increased somewhere between 40% and 45% since the start of the pandemic.
"This year one of the major Adams County cold weather care programs will not operate, leaving a big gap in services for some of the most vulnerable in our city," a December release read.
The shelter holds up to 20 people who apply for a short-term overnight stay with a referral from the City of Northglenn's Crisis Response Unit, as well as other community partners.
That means those 20 people using the program would be the same, and not different people each night.
Ordaz said a program and case manager are assigned to handle guest intake.
They have up to five extra spots for when Northglenn police find people outside with no place to go during inclement weather. Those people are allowed in the center just for the evening.
"We are not a walk-up shelter. It's either program or by police escort coming in here for a safe place to sleep," Ordaz said.
It operates only at night, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Guests can have access to food (dinner, as well as a to-go breakfast package), a communal space, showers and a place to sleep.
"They get a ma. They get a locker. And so it's their space. So they get to keep their stuff. They don't have to take it with them to work every day, which is a huge barrier," Ordaz said.
She said that the lockers are bins where guests can keep their things next to their mat, which acts as their bed.
Because the referrals come through the city's program and other community partners, most of the tenants are either working during the day, or on a path toward employment or stable housing.
"So you have to have a plan. You have to have a goal. You have to be moving forward with sustainability," Ordaz said.
She said they've had around 25 people total in and out of the shelter, with around 10 guests consistently staying.
"It depends on their motivation and their plan and their goals. And so we're just here to support them to work through that. So if it doesn't work, it's just because they're not ready to move forward. But we're here to encourage them to take those next steps," she said.
She's also seen her fair share of success stories thus far.
"But we have one gal who, you know, she lost her housing situation and she went through the culinary program and she's getting ready to graduate this Friday. And she already has a couple of jobs lined up as a cook with some of the local places. And so she's super excited, and it's really heartwarming just to see her excitement, to be able to move forward and knowing that seven weeks ago that wasn't in her horizon and now it is," she said.
Ordaz calls the program unique, and recognizes the work ahead of them before the program ends at the end of March.
"The case managers are working towards that goal of helping them get into housing. But sometimes housing takes a long time," she said.
Rupa Venkatesh, assistant to the city manager in Northglenn, said that among other reasons for the shelter being temporary, the city is working with partners to redevelop the remaining 10 acres at the Civic Center, which includes the old recreation center site.
"Work is underway. The Civic Center master plan vision is to redevelop the property into a mixed use residential, downtown for the City," Venkatesh wrote, adding that many details still need to be figured out.
Overall, Venkatesh said the city has been pleased with how the program is going, and that staff is evaluating options to address homelessness to bring forward to city council.
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