By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
"We have certain people on city staff who have really tried to support and assist us," Hupp says. "I'd hate to paint everyone with one big brush. Having said that, here's what I think that illustrates: In Denver, there's been a relaxing of certain codes to cater to this situation; there's been the political will to say this is something we need to do. In Aurora, I think that same political will did not exist, and because of that, the city attorney frankly did not want to put the city in some kind of potential for liability by agreeing to waive building codes. What we would like to see is an increase in the political commitment to address this issue."
Both Tidwell and Hupp applaud Denver's Road Home, that city's ten-year plan to end homelessness.
"But that's Denver," Tidwell says. "This is Aurora. We don't have a Road Home. There's no road home."
While the city to the west gets national props for tackling homelessness, Aurora mayor Ed Tauer, son of former mayor Paul Tauer, has trouble even estimating the size of Aurora's homeless population. (It's at least 788, according to a 2006 survey that Tidwell says came up short by about half.) But not everyone would consider a family living week-to-week in an East Colfax motel homeless, Tauer says.
As proof of his city's commitment to helping the homeless, Tauer points to Home of Our Own, a city-run program that helps families move from motels into more stable housing. According to city statistics, 52 families found housing through that program in 2006. The city has also given $400,000 to the Aurora Housing Corporation to help create twenty units for low-income housing and ten units of transitional housing. Aurora receives $108,000 in federal housing funds from HUD each year as well, and splits that money between Comitis, a battered women's center and Arapahoe House, a non-profit substance-abuse treatment provider with a transitional program that served about 65 homeless individuals last year.
But that's not nearly enough to house the people who are about to lose their rooms in East Colfax motels.
"Our number-one concern is that a number of the people in these hotels are families. We know statistically that when homeless people have to move, they have to change schools, and 25 percent of these children will lose one full grade level a year because of school moves," says Roxanne White, manager of Denver's Department of Human Services. "Our number-two concern is that people who are living in the motels are members of the community, and they shouldn't have to move out of their community to find new housing. And our number-three concern is that communities take care of their own homeless and not send them to places like Denver and use precious resources that are allocated community by community to help the homeless.
"I personally think that when a community is unwilling to take care of the homeless, it's a sign of how it takes care of all its citizens."
Eight-year-old Jaime lived in room 325 at the Dunes with her brother and sister, her mother and her mother's boyfriend. She hated the place.
She'd often lie awake at night, staring at the cockroaches crawling on the ceiling above her, afraid to close her eyes and fall asleep because a cockroach might fall on her face. Jaime had spent almost half of her life in East Colfax motels, and she'd seen a lot during that time.
"Mom, the other day I saw this lady walking down Colfax," she told her mother one day in March, lifting her shirt up past her belly button and swaying her hips side to side, "and a car came by and picked her up, and she got in."
Jaime's older brother, Jerry -- aka "Three," since he's the third Jerry on his father's side -- extended his disdain for motel life beyond the Dunes to include much of East Colfax. "In Aurora, everybody's like gangster, like, 'Yo, what up, I want to kill you,'" nine-year-old Three said.
His mother, Amy Hess-Kibben, grew up in Boulder and earned a degree from Florida State University in 1996. The next year, she gave birth to Three; Jaime came along a year later. The family soon moved to Colorado, where the children's father opened a tattoo shop in Colorado Springs. Amy started snorting lines with him on the weekends. One of those weekends, when the dealer was out of coke, Amy's man brought home some meth instead. Amy snorted it and found that she liked it much better than coke, because she felt well enough the next day to go to her job at a maternity clothing store. Plus, with meth she didn't have to keep snorting lines to stay high, as cokeheads do.
In late 2001, the family lost the tattoo shop and had a really shitty Christmas with nothing under the tree but mounting bills. Amy, still a once-a-week tweaker, took her kids to her mother's place in Westminster, where they stayed in the basement for two weeks. Then they moved in with a friend for a couple of months, then went back to Amy's mom's place. Finally, Amy rented an apartment in Thornton.