Outreach program nets more than 200 jobs for homeless

Back in 2010, Leif was one of the more than 600 people camping on the banks of Monument Creek.

The military veteran had no job and no place to live. He did, however, own a moped. In an effort to keep it from being stolen, he fought for his possession and lost an eye in the process.

But thanks to Homeward Pikes Peak’s outreach support program, Leif has a new eye and a permanent home.

“We had to really work with the VA (Veterans’ Administration),” said Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak. “But finally, we got him into housing for the rest of his life, and we got him medical care.”

Leif is just one of hundreds of success stories from the outreach program, which started a few years ago as the recession hit hard, foreclosures rose and people started camping at Monument Creek.

“It’s all thanks to Bob,” Leif said, clapping Holmes on the shoulder.

The city – and a few generous nonprofits – acted. El Pomar paid $100,000, the city paid $50,000. United Way, New Life and Daniels Chevrolet in Denver also pitched in money.

The result: a total of 1,398 people – including many children – were offered a better place to stay. They found rooms at the Aztec Hotel on Platte Ave., and now fill up the entire hotel.

And they found reason to celebrate this week: 206 jobs in 17 months. The first 100 came the first 100 days – and the last 100 were a little harder.

“It’s part of the agreement to live here,” he explained. “You have to do community service if you’re able and you have to stay drug free. You also have to make three to five job contacts every day.”

It’s a good return on the city’s initial investment.

“Do the math: 206 jobs at $8 an hour,” he said. “If they spend one-third of it on sales taxable items, that’s an $86,000 return on the city’s initial investment. Doing things this way makes sense.”

Homeless people might be invisible to many, but a single man on the street can cost taxpayers upwards of $56,000 a year, he said.

“And that’s what I told them at city council,” he said.

The program’s had its share of critics, people who said they sent 190 people away on buses, he said.

“We did give them a ticket home, but we made sure they had a place to stay, they were wanted,” he said. “We bought them a ticket, put them on the bus and called to make sure they got there.”

Others accepted alcohol and drug treatment, he said. Those services are always available, even when people have been removed from the Aztec.

“It’s hard to tell people to leave because they’re doing drugs,” he said. “But I believe you never give up hope on people, so they can get their act together and come back.”

The strict standards have paid off. The Aztec’s parking lot is swept clean daily, security patrols it nightly. It’s been relined recently, and residents at the extended-stay hotel have painted the exterior and interior of the building.

For many, it’s become home. They have their hotel room doors open, and the 34 children who are guests of the hotel play in the parking lot. Single moms hold infants and toddlers.

“We’ve gotten a reputation,” Holmes said. “It’s gotten to be where when you say you’re from the Aztec, it’s a good thing, a recommendation. They know you’ll work hard.”

To back up his claim, Holmes tells the story of one of the hotel’s residents. The man works in Monument at the local cemetery. He rides his bike from Platte Ave. to Monument every day.

“That’s a hard worker,” he said. “That’s someone who’s humble, who wants a job.”