EDITORIAL: Don’t let fiction and fear prevent Aurora from helping the homeless

The opposition to Bridge House is based on myths, fiction and fears about who homeless people are and what this program really is

Before you make a judgment about a proposed program for area homeless people, ask a handful of longtime Broomfield or Highlands Ranch residents about what they think of the Altura neighborhood on East Colfax Avenue, near Laredo Elementary School.

Even metro-dwelling Colorado natives will most likely first have no idea where that is, other than somewhere along the dreaded “East Colfax Avenue.” And if you were to point the area out on a map and show them pictures of the area’s modest homes and strip-mall businesses, almost certainly most of those queried would frown on the area. They’d point out what they believe to be Aurora’s notorious crime rate, the gangs, the slummy community. And the people who live there? Altura residents are not their people.

If you live in the Altura neighborhood, you know those common and pervasive perceptions are just fiction and lies. The community is very safe. The schools are strong. The people who live there care deeply about their neighborhood and represent a wide swath of demographics, just like the rest of Aurora. It’s that dynamic mix of people, culture, means and interests that makes Aurora the intriguing, vibrant city it actually is.

How can the perception of Aurora by so many people be so very wrong and conflicting reality? Myths, misinformation, rumors and fears are hard to dispel.

That’s the very case with an astonishing program created to help chronically homeless people end their strife. The program changes that one thing that marks them not as someone who needs extra help, but as someone who should be shunned. Some residents in the Altura neighborhood, led by some city council members, who would and should be offended by outsiders misjudging them and their community, are quick to judge the astonishing Bridge House Ready to Work Program on the same faulty premises.

They’ve banded together to oppose the program from moving into an abandoned bingo hall on East Colfax Avenue and Laredo Street. It’s an area dotted with the oddities of a neighborhood cobbled together over decades from farm-land, residential plats, industrial tracts and the longest street in America. The opposition to Bridge House is based on myths, fiction and fears about who homeless people are and what this program really is.

Bridge House is not a shelter for any and all who need a place to stay. It’s a program that selects people and families who will use their system to get out of motels, cars or the streets, get jobs and then get homes.

Despite the reality, city lawmakers are couching their displeasure and misunderstanding in proposed changes to Aurora’s zoning code. They’re creating a category of residence called “congregate living,” setting it apart from apartments and group homes. It’s not necessarily an unfair or useless addition. But in doing so, city council members are imposing restrictions on this category of housing that is unfair and based not on reality, but based on fear and fiction. The changes may require set-backs from schools so far that it would preclude allowing Bridge House into the areas it needs to be to succeed. The changes are so arcane they could affect other programs like elderly assisted living programs and much more.

Aurora lawmakers should table this proposal and propose a measure based on reality and need, not fiction and fear. Neighbors opposed to Bridge House should learn how vast and varied the homeless population in the metro area really is, and not what they think it is based on vagrants they see on Colfax or stories they see on TV. Both attitudes and actions here are shortsighted, hurting some of the most vulnerable families in the state, and in the long run, hurting the Altura neighborhood and all of Aurora, as well.

Like most people know, it really doesn’t matter what ignorant metro-area residents wrongly think about Aurora, because people who live here know the truth. But if residents in Broomfield or Highlands Ranch were to make decisions affecting Altura residents, based on fear and fiction, it would be critical to set the record straight.

Aurora needs this program, and Altura may be a perfect place for it, or there may be a better location that falls victim to this wrong-headed change in zoning law. So set the record straight.