Project to house homeless in Capitol Hill moves forward

St. Francis Center to convert historic church into residential building

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There are many people in the Denver area who are employed, but still struggle to afford any sort of housing.

“It's even more unaffordable to those earning only minimum wage,” said Blaine Newby, project lead for St. Francis Center. “This will be a big step in helping people get out of homelessness.”

St. Francis Center, a not-for-profit organization that provides refuge for people in the Denver metro area who are experiencing homelessness, is sponsoring a project at the Warren United Methodist Church, 1630 E. 14th Ave., to rehabilitate the building into low-income housing.

The facility, St. Francis-Warren Residences, will serve individuals of any gender who are employed or ready to enter the workforce and are currently experiencing homelessness. According to the St. Francis Center website, the housing will serve “people earning less than 30% of the area median income,” which, according to the website, is “roughly $19,500/year.”

Warren Residences will provide people with what Tom Luehrs, executive director of St. Francis Center, calls “the path out of homelessness.”

“Each day that someone lives in a state of homelessness is a day of erosion of their self-esteem and dignity,” Luehrs said. “Now is the moment for assisting people with the change they are longing for. A place to live and a job as they transform their lives.”

The church is a landmarked-preserved building, so the outside will remain nearly the same as it looks today, Newby said. Exterior modifications only include some smaller projects such as landscaping and a new roof, Newby said.

The building is about 17,000 square feet, and has lower, upper and loft levels. It will be converted to include 49 dormitory-style units — about 150 square feet each. Only one person will reside in each unit.

The tenants will share a variety of common areas, including a balcony, dining room, living area, laundry facility, bathrooms and four kitchen pods equipped with stoves, ovens, sinks and refrigerators/freezers.

Residents will be able to engage with each other through programming such as art or cooking classes and recreation, Newby said.

“We feel the interaction between residents can enhance the living experience and overall well-being,” he said.

Warren Residences will be staffed 24/7, which includes a live-in manager who will reside in one of the units, and professionals who can provide support services such as employment help and counseling.

According to the St. Francis Center website, lease terms for every tenant will prohibit weapons, violent behavior toward staff or other residents, illegal drug use, smoking indoors and overnight guests.

Per a recently published Good Neighbor Agreement, registered sex offenders will not be eligible for residency at Warren Residences.

The Good Neighbor Agreement is a document that addresses various concerns such as safety and parking, for example. It is between St. Francis Center; Warren Village, a nearby residential property that provides housing to low-income single parents who are working or going to school; immediate neighbors; and representatives from Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods and Neighbors for Greater Capitol Hill.

CHUN's board of directors signed it on April 2.

“After a thoughtful, deliberative process, we are hopeful that the initiative, and our neighborhood, move forward in a constructive way,” said CHUN President Travis Leiker. But, “there is more work to be done and CHUN is eager to convene neighbors to address the most vexing issues of the day. Now is the time to lean in, even if it needs to be done virtually, to shape the future of our neighborhoods.”

The Neighbors for Greater Capitol Hill's board voted to sign the agreement on April 10.

"Neighbors for Greater Capitol Hill feel that it is reasonable, fair and represents a good compromise between the needs of St. Francis Center, their clients and the immediate neighbors," said Michael Henry, who serves as the board's treasurer.

St. Francis Center bought the church in December for $1.25 million.

Currently, St. Francis Center is working with the city on finalizing the project's plan and architecture. Interior demolition is scheduled for the end of May or early June, with construction beginning in August and a project finish in March or April in 2021.

“Using a church building for the purposes it was built for — to serve people's needs, and to provide a respectful space where they can renew their sense of self and other — is a spectacular opportunity,” Luehrs said. “The building will be used for many, not just a few, and will be a proud legacy for those who constructed it and worshiped in it for many generations.”

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