Chief of Pikes Peak region's program to oversee homeless services resigns

March 5, 2014 Updated: March 5, 2014 at 8:10 pm
photo - Bob Holmes (The Gazette file)
Bob Holmes (The Gazette file) 

Bob Holmes, a decade-long player in the Pikes Peak region's fight against homelessness, on Wednesday announced his resignation from Homeward Pikes Peak.

Holmes will leave his post as chief executive of the nonprofit on March 28 - departing "with truly mixed emotions," according to his resignation letter.

He leaves at a turbulent time for the organization, which has saved failing nonprofits and coordinated millions of dollars in federal grants across the Pikes Peak region, but has also forced dozens of people to quickly find new housing by closing the Aztec Motel. The transitional housing program ended amid deep funding woes, and a new program that Holmes envisioned to take its place never materialized.

Holmes gave no reason for his departure, though he told the nonprofit's board of directors that he planned to work on a human services venture, said Jan Doran, a board member. She did not elaborate.

Doran and others who have worked with Holmes praised his work and years of dedicated service to the region.

"I am incredibly proud of the accomplishments of Homeward Pikes Peak through the combined efforts of staff, board and founders, most especially the El Pomar Foundation," Holmes wrote in the letter.

Holmes did not return calls from The Gazette.

Laura Fonner, the nonprofit's director of operations, will serve as interim executive director until a replacement is named.

Homeward Pikes Peak was founded about 10 years ago to coordinate the region's services to homeless people and transitional housing programs, which involves several nonprofits that receive federal grants. It operated under a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandate to streamline and coordinate federally-funded local housing programs that help homeless people segue from shelters to more permanent housing.

At the time, the collaborative of programs was receiving less than $1 million a year, said Anne Beer, of Pikes Peak United Way. Last year, it received more than $2 million in federal grants, she said.

Over the years, Homeward Pikes Peak's mission shifted from coordinating other agencies to serving as a direct provider - a change that kicked into gear in 2009 when tent camps sprouted throughout the city amid the Great Recession.

To offer those campers a place to live, Holmes helped to establish a transitional housing program that settled at the Aztec Motel - offering shelter to more than 2,300 people over the course of more than three years.

Homeward Pikes Peak also took over Harbor House Clinical Services when the organization faced closure, allowing the program to remain open.

But that shift caused a conflict of interest in overseeing those federal grants - leaving the nonprofit to cede those duties to the Pikes Peak United Way, said Luke Travins, chairman of the nonprofit's board, The city operates in an oversight capacity, and is working with United Way for a long-term solution.

"I could see how people in the community were uncomfortable with that," Travins said. "Because our organization had changed some of its goals."

It's most visible remaining program - the Aztec Motel - closed on Nov. 15, forcing program managers to scramble to find housing for about 75 people living there at the time.

Emails obtained by a Colorado Open Records Act request show that Holmes alerted City Council about the Aztec's possible closure in July, about three months before tenants were told they had weeks left to find housing.

In late August, Holmes emailed City Council members asking for $75,000 annually for three years to keep the program afloat, because two foundations would match that money, released documents show.

In the documents released to The Gazette, there were no email replies to Homeward Pikes Peak's plea from City Council.

Earlier this year, the city paid $60,000 to Homeward Pikes Peak as part of an agreement struck with the mayor in late 2012, but emails suggest it was to be the city's last payment to the organization under that agreement.

In a document dated Jan. 27, 2014, Aimee Cox, the city's senior economic vitality specialist, said the payment was a "special investment" and that the nonprofit "will need to submit requests through the competitive process required of all other agencies" in the future.

When the Aztec closed, Holmes vowed to re-open the motel as a center for mothers battling substance abuse. He envisioned the re-vamped facility as a place for women with children to live - either while the mothers sought substance abuse treatment, or shortly after being discharged from rehab.

Despite securing no funding for the program, Holmes expected it to open in early January following renovations at the motel. The renovations never happened.

On Wednesday, only one mother was enrolled in the program, a woman who has been housed at a motel while receiving counseling from Harbor House, Fonner said. She plans to pursue a house for women in the program to live when she takes over.

Board members dismissed any notion that the Aztec's closure, or the fact that the organization lost oversight of the Continuum of Care, played a part in Holmes' departure.

"He's (Holmes) had wonderful leadership and wonderful success in addressing the homeless needs on our community," Doran said. "We will really miss him a lot, but we wish him the best."

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