It was disaster waiting to happen.
In the second week of April, Aurora officials got some phone calls warning that the Blue Spruce Motel, a notorious dump on East Colfax, could be closing any day. On Friday, April 13, Aurora’s community development planner, Paul Andrus, called Maggie Tidwell at Colfax Community Network and set up an emergency meeting. Joseph Garcia, Aurora’s manager of community development, was also there.
“I was hearing words like ‘rumor has it that this is going to happen,’ and nobody was really sure, so I went down there and got a list of tenants and spoke with a manager who had a little trouble with her English and she basically said that the unit was going to be closing sometime the next week and that was all the information I could gather,” Garcia says now.
The same manager hung up on Westword.
That weekend, Blue Spruce managers collected rent money from many of its residents. Then on Tuesday, April 17, they proceeded to lock all the doors that still had working locks; they cut off the power and water. A few locked-out residents busted back into their rooms to round up their things. Others abandoned their clothes, furniture and their children’s toys, fleeing rooms with ceilings that had long since started to cave in on them. Hearing that the motel had been closed, Garcia went to the Blue Spruce, where he handed out hamburgers to residents who’d been thrown out onto the parking lot, many of whom had all their belongings packed in trash bags. If the city had gotten more notice of the Blue Spruce’s closure, Garcia says, it could have organized a meeting for residents with the appropriate county’s social services department, neighboring landlords and area non-profits, to try and find replacement housing. That’s what Aurora did last year, when the Dutch Mill trailer park closed down. But without notice, no such meeting could be organized.
The City of Aurora did agree to provide some housing vouchers so that people could be relocated from the Blue Spruce to the King’s Inn. But because of increased drug trafficking, the King’s Inn manager soon asked them to leave. So the Blue Spruce refugees were moved to another East Colfax motel, also with vouchers provided by Aurora.
While Denver is working hard on its homeless problem, Aurora seems to be behind the curve. That will no doubt be apparent when the Metropolitan Denver Homeless Initiative hosts its annual press conference to reveal the results of its point-in-time survey documenting homelessness in the metro area. But the press conference, originally scheduled for May 16, has been postponed and moved from CCN to a new location outside of Aurora. That disappoints Tidwell, who’d already gotten waivers from the kids in her program allowing them to speak with reporters.
The Homeless Initiative’s executive director, Jean Tutolo, acknowledges that the press conference was changed to avoid putting Aurora in the glare of harsh publicity. “It doesn’t seem that there’s a clear plan of what they want to do with the closing motels in Aurora,” Tutolo says. “It’s not at all clear if there’s even a committee working on it, and we felt that if we had our press conference out there we would be pointing fingers.”
Perhaps instead the Initiative should host it at the Blue Spruce Motel, which now sits abandoned and wide-open on East Colfax. The glass door leading to the motel’s indoor pool – which has been empty for at least a dozen years -- swings open with the wind. The room reeks of decay, almost as strong as that of a decomposing human body. – Luke Turf