Some veterans who have lived on the streets will soon find a home on a medical campus that has supported the military since 1918.
“The history is rich indeed,” state senator and Vietnam veteran Larry Crowder said Monday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Veterans Renaissance Apartments at Fitzsimons.
Fitzsimons was founded as an army facility in 1918 and was particularly busy during World War II. Among the vets it cared for is President Dwight D. Eisenhower, after he had a heart attack during a visit to Denver in 1955. Following the deactivation of the army medical center in 1996, the site dotted with memorials to soldiers became home to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, which has a variety of services for student as well as non-student veterans. The Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center opened on part of the Fitzsimons site this summer.
Building 500, the heart of the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, is now an Anschutz administration building. The Veterans Renaissance Apartments will be built on what is now a parking lot not far from the old Fitzsimons gates that still stand at Peoria and Colfax and next door to a veterans’ nursing home whose residents include World War II vets.
When the new apartment building is completed, expected in early 2020, vets who have experienced homelessness will get counseling as well as housing. The complex will have a gym, computer lab, a medical exam room and other amenities. Residents will pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent.
John Parvensky, CEO and president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, spoke Monday about the importance of connecting people who have experienced homelessness to jobs and community. He said some vets would get training in medical careers and might be able to work on the Anschutz campus as peer mentors or in other capacities.
“It’s a great location,” Parvensky said.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless developed the project for the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services. The coalition will work with the VA and others to serve residents of the planned 56 one-bedroom and four two-bedroom apartments — some vets are expected to live with their families. Parvensky said the VA medical center’s homelessness unit would help determine who gets a place in Veterans Renaissance, taking into account need based on length of time without a home and physical and mental condition.
According to the figures released last month by HUD, 566 veterans were counted in metropolitan Denver during the one-night point-in-time survey of people experiencing homelessness in January. The previous year it was 548.
Irv Halter, an Air Force veteran who directs the state Department of Local Affairs, said housing should be considered a human right.
“Homelessness in the richest nation on earth is a failure,” he said. “And it’s not a failure on the part of the people experiencing homelessness.”
He and other speakers Monday described the realization of the facility as the result of years of effort and the collaborative spirit needed to address the problem.
Crowder and State Rep. Su Ryden, who also tossed a shovelful of dirt Monday, were praised for their work on legislation passed in 2016 that allowed the Department of Human Services to build facilities at Fitzsimons. Halter added that late Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, who died earlier this year, had pushed for the project.
“I know Steve is looking down on us with a big smile on his face,” Halter said.