Some veterans will start moving out of homelessness and into an apartment complex in Aurora

A veteran who has experienced homelessness called it “housing with dignity.”

The new Renaissance Veterans Apartments building on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Nov. 13, 2020

The new Renaissance Veterans Apartments building on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Nov. 13, 2020

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and state and local officials marked Veterans Day this week with a celebration of the completion of a 60-apartment complex in metro Denver where veterans can come in from the streets.

During a grand opening event Friday, held online to allow for the social distancing needed to slow the spread of COVID-19, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless President and CEO John Parvensky said veterans and their families could start moving in as early as next week to the Renaissance Veterans Apartments at Fitzsimons. Veterans living at the complex, at 1753 North Quentin Street in Aurora, will have easy access to health care at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center on the Fitzsimons campus, once the site of an Army medical center. Counseling and other support also will be provided at the complex.

Coalition spokesperson Cathy Alderman said many residents have already been identified through referrals from her organization’s veterans programs, Veterans Affairs homelessness programs and other service providers. Alderman added that because of the pandemic that forced the grand opening to go virtual, moving in would go slowly “to make sure we aren’t overcrowding the space or creating more interactions than necessary.”

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless now owns 18 complexes with more than 2,000 homes.

Among those who virtually attended the grand opening for the coalition’s newest complex was former Air Force engineer Leanne Wheeler. As she watched a video showing the new building’s library, outdoor exercise area and other amenities and its furnished apartments, Wheeler commented that it was “housing with dignity.”

After serving in Desert Storm, Wheeler worked for private defense contractors. She lost work during the Great Recession and was without a home for more than a year. Wheeler is now housed, working to develop affordable housing and serving on the board of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

“We as a society must make a decision about how we want to manage our chief pandemic, our chief societal ill, and that is our unhoused population,” Wheeler said. “But for our society’s failing we wouldn’t see the numbers of folks that we in fact see.”

According to the latest annual Point in Time survey of homelessness, more than 600 veterans are experiencing homelessness on any given night in the Denver area.

Of the 60 new Coalition veterans apartments, almost half — 28 — are set aside for households earning 30 percent or less of the area median income. Other residents can earn up to  60 percent of the area median income. The median income for a family of four is currently $100,000 in the region. None of the residents will pay more than a third of whatever they earn on rent, with some subsidized by the federal HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program that combines rental assistance for homeless veterans with VA case management and clinical services.

The Aurora Housing Authority, meanwhile, is preparing to build more housing for low-income veterans on the Fitzsimons campus. The authority learned this week that it had received state and federal low-income housing tax credits to support a 59-apartment senior complex for veterans, veteran spouses, and immediate relatives of members of the military who died while serving in a time of conflict. Income restrictions will be similar to those for the recently completed Colorado Coalition for the Homeless veterans housing.

Dayna Ashley-Oehm, the Aurora Housing Authority’s director of development, said her project was using the same architecture firm — Studio Completiva — that designed the coalition complex. That will underline the sense that a neighborhood for veterans is being completed, she said, adding that she could envision an older veteran who has experiencing homelessness being stabilized at the coalition complex, then moving on to independent living at the Aurora Housing Authority complex. The site also is home to the Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons, a skilled nursing care and short-term rehabilitation facility.

The Aurora Housing Authority expects to start a yearlong construction project for its complex next summer.

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