No Lease on Life
Stan Bracclon's office, on the third floor of a well-worn brick-and-concrete building at 1245 East Colfax, smells only faintly of cigarette smoke and homelessness.
Bracclon is executive director of the Emergency Assistance Grant & Referral Project Inc. [EAGR], an agency that provides homeless gays and lesbians with general assistance--a hundred bucks to help with late rent or past-due utilities--or pays for a hotel room for a week or two, or provides first month's rent and a security deposit. Each year the agency sees around 340 people, clients who aren't always best served by local homeless shelters.
"To their credit, there are several agencies in town that serve the homeless that are very gay-friendly," Bracclon says, "but their priorities are families with children--understandably so." Gays and lesbians are often afraid to stay at shelters, because "no matter how gay- and lesbian-friendly the administration and staff might be, they can't control the attitudes of the population at the shelter." And no matter how accommodating the shelter, Bracclon adds, it's unlikely to have private space for a gay or lesbian couple trying to stay off the streets.
Bracclon's agency has just come perilously close to those same streets. On January 29, Bracclon's landlord, Triton Properties Inc., gave him thirty days' notice to vacate. Triton has plans to renovate the building, where Bracclon has been paying $150 monthly for 300 square feet of office space.
"They've indicated to me that they see this area of Colfax as an upscale urban living environment," Bracclon says of Triton. And Bracclon thinks his clients don't quite fit into Triton's image of the neighborhood--not because they're gays and lesbians, but because they're homeless.
Bracclon says that on Friday, January 29, he paid his rent and was "talking and laughing" with people at Triton, who didn't say anything about the impending notice. The next day he went to work and found the letter in his mail slot.
"Frankly, thirty days to move a business--any kind of business--is not very much time," Bracclon says. "It creates problems of keeping the client continuity going. There's the cost of printing posters to get the word out, reconnecting the phone--that's not in the budget. Every month, we're just able to pay our rent with the money that comes in." The agency operates on several small grants, most of which stipulate that the money go directly to clients rather than for overhead.
Triton property director Kelly Booth says EAGR's notice to vacate had nothing to do with the agency's clientele. "It's not even an issue," Booth says. "He was one of a few that were given notice. According to his lease, he has to be given thirty days' notice, which he was properly given. I don't know who he is or what he does. He's been on a month-to-month. It's not an eviction; he was not singled out. The people who did stay stayed because they have a lease with us. Their lease is not up, where his was."
The building is currently home to around twenty tenants, most of them nonprofits such as the Domestic Violence Initiative, Equality Colorado, Project Salvador Crafts and the Gay & Lesbian Community Center. Booth says that when she recently gave several of those tenants their thirty-day notice, they had the option to call her if they needed to stay longer. "We were willing to work with them, and we have been very conscious of that," she says. "Stan never contacted me to try to ask for an extension. If he would have done that, we would have been more than gracious to." But in Triton's notice to vacate, there is no indication that an extension might be possible; it was only after other tenants contacted Booth that they were able to arrange extensions.
One tenant says Triton allowed her agency a two-week extension only after it wrote a formal letter asking for one. "I don't think that they're singling out anybody--I think all the nonprofits have to go, and the reason is we don't pay enough money," she says. "They can get $18 a square foot after they renovate it, and they can only get $6 to $8 a square foot from us."
Bracclon says he'd known Triton was making plans to renovate the building but had expected to get a few months' warning. "To put tenants in an impossible bind and then make them come and beg is not even reasonable," he says. "This isn't just about me and my office, but about my clients and how they're treated and what kind of environment I'm asking them to step into. One of the things EAGR's trying to do is say that people who are poor and homeless have some dignity, and we're trying to maintain that dignity. This is not a separate class of people who should be treated differently, which is the message we're getting from Triton."
Carol Lease, executive director of the Empowerment Program, an agency that provides services to women who are homeless, have been in jail or who have HIV or other disabilities, leases an office on the building's fourth floor. If it weren't for the fact that her agency's lease goes through July 2000, she says, Empowerment would also be gone. As it is, Triton's treatment of the building's tenants has set "a really nasty, bitter tone," Lease says.
"When you're dealing with this kind of money and influence, it's like they're anointed to come in and save a neighborhood. They're not really working with the neighborhood and working with us. I've lived and worked within a mile of this space since 1970. Empowerment has been here forever. This has always been a neighborhood where you can see such a diversity of people--poor and rich. This building was a medical building, it was the first office of the United Way; it has a rich, rich history of service agencies, and Triton doesn't give a damn. They're just in it to make a buck."
Triton owns several properties on that block of Colfax, and Booth says she doesn't understand why people are complaining that the company wants to clean up the neighborhood. "We are starting extensive renovations of the building, interior and exterior," she explains. "It's going to have a complete facelift--the whole outside is going to be redone. We don't kick people out because they don't fit in...We are just trying to make Colfax Avenue the nicest place possible."
But Lease questions Triton's definition of bettering the community. "Stan deals with homeless gay and lesbian folks; I deal with homeless women," she says. "You can try to move the homeless off the streets, you can do the anti-loitering ordinance like Aurora--but what this is is trying to get rid of the people who do the services."
"I can't see why the poor and the middle classes can't share the same spaces," Bracclon says of the encroaching gentrification. "If all of us who do this kind of work are going to be herded into a corral at 23rd and Lawrence, not only does it damage the client, it damages our community--especially Capitol Hill, which is so diverse demographically and in income. That diversity is what has made Capitol Hill so interesting and appealing for a lot of us."
Last week, Bracclon got a break. He'll be moving into the building that houses the Colorado AIDS Project, at 701 East Colfax--in Capitol Hill. "It's twice the amount of money that we were paying, but the main thing that cinched the deal was that they have no problem with the poor and the homeless, and they made that emphatically clear."
Meanwhile, on the third floor of the building at 1245 Colfax--the floor EAGR is being asked to leave--laminated notices hang on four different doorways advertising that the space is available and that interested parties should contact Triton.
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