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As of mid-November, about 35 people who were experiencing homelessness and living with a disability had moved into their new living quarters.

St. Francis-Warren Residences, 1630 E. 14th Ave., opened on Oct. 18.

“The whole effort is toward the housing piece,” said Tom Luehrs, executive director of St. Francis Center, and helping “people feel that they have some stability.”

Housing provides a lot of stability for someone transitioning out of homelessness, Luehrs said. He added that when a person is stabilized with housing, it can lead to many other positives in a person’s life — including employment security.

St. Francis Center is a not-for-profit organization that provides refuge for people in the Denver metro area who are experiencing homelessness. With Warren Residences, St. Francis Center now has three housing facilities in Denver. The organization established about 38 years ago, and in that time, saw that the solutions people needed most to help them get out of homelessness were housing and employment, and some need help accessing additional services such as, for example, mental health or claiming disability benefits.

“Some people just need a little help to get out of homelessness,” Luehrs said.

Permanent supportive housing

Located in Denver’s Cheesman Park neighborhood, the new Warren Residences housing complex is “in the heart of the city,” so people living there have easy access to public transportation to be able to get anywhere in the city for any other services they may need to travel to, including their job, Luehrs said.

Warren Residences has 48 dorm-style, one-bedroom units to house individuals of any gender with a disability who are employed or ready to enter the workforce, and are currently experiencing homelessness.

“For some, it’s an adaptation after living on the streets for years,” Luehrs said. “We knew there was a need (for housing) for people who would be good with their own private room, and common living spaces.”

The common living spaces include a living room, bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, laundry facilities and an outdoor patio.

Warren Residences has staff onsite 24/7, in addition to the organization’s staff licensed to work with people who are suffering from mental health problems and/or other issues, Luehrs said. St. Francis Center can also help with setting up disability benefits and job placement, Luehrs added.

Tenants pay 30% of their income and sign a year’s lease that’s renewable each year. Lease terms include no weapons, no violent behavior toward staff or other residents and no illegal drug use. Tenants must also agree to live respectfully with the other tenants, Luehrs said.

Referring to Warren Residences as “permanent supportive housing,” Luehrs added that “part of the hope is for (the tenants) to stabilize and eventually decide to live more independently,” thus making room for another person to transition out of homelessness.

At the grand opening celebration of the Warren Residences on Oct. 22, Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods and St. Francis Center announced a partnership that will help each organization further their goals of providing affordable housing in Denver.

An anonymous gift of $10,000 was given to CHUN earlier this year, and CHUN used the money to financially support a crisis fund for Warren Residences, states a news release.

“A financial setback like replacing a bus pass or supporting a loved one with an emergency expense can cause a financial hardship that threatens a person’s ability to obtain employment or stable housing,” said CHUN’s president Travis Leiker in a news release. “Through this philanthropic partnership and investment in our newest neighbors, we aim to create an opportunity fund for individuals to use when a financial crisis occurs.”

According to the news release, tenants of Warren Residences will be able to “access this fund should an urgent expense arise. Those who access the funding will be asked to make a good faith effort to repay the fund so that it will benefit others in the future.”

Tackling homelessness in Denver

According to the 2021 Point In Time survey — which happens annually and aims to gather an accurate count of people experiencing homelessness per year — 5,530 people in the metro-area, with Denver having the majority, were experiencing homelessness, Luehrs said.

But Denver has been moving in the right direction by implementing certain solutions that are working — the Safe Outdoor Spaces and opening hotels to shelter people in a non-congregate setting, Luehrs said.

Additionally, “the launch of this project (Warren Residences) demonstrates that when citizens work together, Denver wins,” Leiker added. “This is how we can move our city forward, and how registered neighborhood organizations like CHUN must focus on being solutions-oriented and delivering outcomes.”

A building meant to uplift people

The St. Francis-Warren Residences project got started in roughly 2018 when the Mountain Sky Conference of The United Methodist Church wanted to put the building up for sale, and offered it to St. Francis Center, Luehrs said. St. Francis Center bought the church for $1.25 million.

St. Francis Center kept the outside intact because it’s historic and the building is landmark preserved — it dates more than 100 years old, Luehrs said — but gutted the inside and remodeled it to create the dormitory-style units and communal living spaces.

Because it formerly served as church, the building also had sentimental value to the community, Luehrs said.

He mentioned a recent conversation with a former pastor of the church, who expressed pleasure that the building continues to serve people in a way that lifts them up, Luehrs said.

“People who attended Warren Methodist Church had their spirits lifting by being together for worship,” Luehrs said. “That lifting of spirits continues today with the people now living in the building.”