Photos: Homeless female veterans focus of housing project at old Su Teatro site

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In our recent cover story, "Bed Check," which chronicles the challenges homeless women in Denver face, we note the need for both emergency shelter and more permanent homes. In the latter category, a group called the Empowerment Program is now pushing forward with a housing project specifically for female veterans that supporters hope will help an underserved population. Full renderings are below.

The developers of the project, called the Odyssey Family Residences, officially broke ground on the High Street project this past Veterans Day. The site, in north Denver's Elyria neighborhood, is a historic structure and the former home of Su Teatro, which moved to Santa Fe Drive.

Once it officially opens its doors in another year or so, after a renovation tied to a $7 million reinvestment in the Elyria area, the facility will offer 36 one- and two-bedroom apartments specifically for female veterans -- a population that has increasingly struggled with homelessness in Denver. Those who live in the development will also get resident supportive services in an adjacent Elyria School building.

The project is the work of firms J. Mercado and Associates, Inc. and Community Capital Corporation, in partnership with the Empowerment Program, a group that owns other residential properties in Denver and offers a wide array of services to women.

Carol Lease, executive director of the Empowerment Program, says the project will offer permanent housing to homeless female veterans who may be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or may have faced sexual abuse or other trauma.

"The idea was to create housing for that group of women that's safe. They can get services and get on the road to recovery," Lease says, adding, "It's not going to take long to get it filled up."

Continue for more on the groundbreaking and additional photos. This group of homeless women needs more comprehensive support in Denver, Lease says.

"The women veterans are an underserved population from day one," she says. "There's a stigma, I think, against any woman who has a mental-health issue and a substance issue.... There's not an understanding of how those combine to lead people to where the only choice they have left is...the street."

In the Delores Project, a transitional and emergency shelter exclusively for women, the number of female vets seeking a safe place to sleep has grown and now makes up around 20 percent of the women the organization serves.

Construction of the Odyssey project will officially begin in January, and developers hope that by the end of 2013, they can start opening their doors to women and families.

At the groundbreaking event, speakers in attendance said housing for a population in need was a fitting use for the space.

"Whatever happens to this building, it will always be a benefit to our community," Tony Garcia, executive director of Su Teatro, told the crowd. He added that female vets and the Elyria neighborhood have earned this kind of support. "We are as much as part of Denver as anybody else is and we don't deserved to be ignored."

Denver City Councilwoman Judy Montero added, "I can't think of a more symbolic project to be able to be a part of... I'm very, very honored that we will have women coming out of the military that will be here, so that we can embrace you."

Continue for more photos from the groundbreaking and renderings from the developers.

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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