Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Families say they are victims of troubled Colorado Springs shelter programs

By Jakob Rodgers Updated: January 4, 2014 at 6:06 am 0

Publicly touted plans to convert the Aztec Motel from a transitional housing program into a shelter for mothers seeking substance abuse treatment appear adrift - without a building, funding or timetable for getting started.

The initiative promised by Homeward Pikes Peak's chief executive, Bob Holmes, failed to open this week - the latest delay for a program announced at a late October news conference.

Holmes attributed the broken plans for a women's shelter on the motel's "demise," a reference to the facility's decay and owners who he says ceased communicating with him.

Massive renovations viewed as key to reopening the facility as a women's shelter went unfinished, and the handful of people staying at the motel say they are victims of the failed plans.

"I can't even tell you what happened there... as far as the ownership and the chaos," Holmes said. "I just don't know."

Erin Barnes, one of the motel's owners, disputes statements by Holmes and the residents - claiming Homeward Pikes Peak left the property trashed.

Holmes signed no agreement to return to the motel after ending a transitional housing program there on Nov. 15, Barnes said. Nor, she added, did he sign a contract with her company to renovate the facility in anticipation of opening a shelter. Holmes confirmed there was no written agreement.

"It was disgusting," Barnes said of the facility. "They made no attempt to clean anything up, nothing. If I left a rental property in that condition, I would have to pay for that cleanup fee."

Barnes said some tenants asked her to stay while the nonprofit found alternative housing.

"They (Homeward Pikes Peak) basically just left these people," Barnes said.

 

Funds sought for program

Holmes said the transitional housing program was discontinued as a means to open a $300,000-a-year housing program catering to single mothers battling substance abuse.

Before a row of television cameras, Holmes said he envisioned housing 20 mothers at the motel - each able to walk a few blocks down Platte Avenue to receive treatment from Harbour House Clinical Services, another Homeward Pikes Peak program.

After classes or counseling, they could return home and raise their children in a safe, clean setting.

While introducing the venture, he acknowledged that he had no funding.

That remains true today.

Holmes said he plans to dip into Homeward Pikes Peak's reserves to lease a five-bedroom house for the initiative - a prototype for showing off the program to foundations, philanthropists and other possible revenue sources.

"We haven't actively sought funding for this program, per se, because we want to get it developed a little bit more," Holmes said.

Holmes' announcement in October left program managers a few weeks to find alternative shelter for about 75 people enrolled in the transitional housing.

Holmes says all were offered a place to stay - most of them in apartments through deals with Greccio Housing or with various landlords across the city. Seven moved into the Salvation Army's R.J. Montgomery homeless shelter. Stragglers were offered money to stay at a Colorado Springs motel, he said.

Now, Holmes said he feels beholden to one family - a mother he promised to accept into the new program.

Holmes said he has since enrolled her in counseling sessions at Harbour House Clinical Services. She lives in a Colorado Springs motel, for which Holmes says he personally pays.

The woman is likely to move on to another substance abuse program in a few days.

Holmes hasn't sought enrollments for anyone else.

"There are not people out there that we've made any promises to," Holmes said. "It's not like we've made promises and we're not fulfilling them."

 

Motel renovations halted

Meanwhile, people living at the motel say conditions devolved into squalor - leaving them to make do without hot water in a facility infested with bedbugs.

Jennifer Young, 32, an Aztec tenant since May, said the motel was "always full," and "we were always there to help each other."

"Now it's just a couple of us here," she said. "And we're just kind of waiting for it all to come to an end."

Dozens of wood cabinets pulled from the Aztec Motel's rooms sat in the parking lot Friday, along with a few children's bicycles. Several baby strollers along the sidewalk mark the apartments where people live.

Three rooms house tenants of the shuttered transitional housing program - two families and a single man.

Taino Rivera, 35, said he warms the water for his newborn baby's baths in a microwave or on an electric hot plate, because his apartment has had no hot water for about a month. His baby was born two days after the Aztec program ended.

A pipe in a room adjoining Rivera's unit is broken and leaks, leaving a large puddle around the water heater.

"That's about the worst place to be in now," Rivera said, sitting outside his motel room.

Young, her boyfriend and three children, all age 6 or younger, live two doors south. A single man, who declined to talk, lives to the north.

Residents said they stayed at the motel after agreeing to be paid by Barnes for helping with renovations. But the work lasted less than two weeks, they said, and they were abruptly told by Barnes to leave, despite the lack of formal eviction notices.

Once, the electricity at the motel was turned off without notice, the families said.

Colorado Springs police issued Barnes a summons Nov. 27 for turning off the building's utilities that day without proper authorization. She is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 19 to face the misdemeanor charge.

Holmes said he called Colorado Springs code enforcement officers when he learned the power was disconnected - his only dealing with the Aztec Motel since the end of the transitional program.

He dealt for more than three years with Roy Barnes, who owns Dogged Industries LLC and the Aztec Motel with his estranged wife, Erin Barnes. The two are in the midst of a divorce, according to court records, and Holmes said he communicated more recently with Erin Barnes.

Holmes added that he doesn't feel responsible for the people who remained at the motel, because they turned down Homeward Pikes Peak's offers for other housing.

Rivera disputed Holmes' claim, saying he was not offered a place to live. Young said Holmes offered a week's stay at another Colorado Springs motel, but she chose to live at the Aztec because it seemed more permanent.

Before ending her conversation with The Gazette, Erin Barnes stressed that she never hired the tenants to help renovate.

Rather, she said the tenants asked to stay while Homeward Pikes Peak sought housing for them elsewhere.

She acknowledged that some tenants agreed to remove trash from the motel, but she added that renovation work fell to other people.

"I had qualified workers that were going to be doing work for me," Erin Barnes said.

 

Work offer was informal

At the Aztec, two families say they were brought in by Erin Barnes to help with renovations.

Those seven people - four adults and three children - weren't Homeward Pikes Peak clients when the motel closed Nov. 15. They had been living at the R.J. Montgomery homeless shelter when they were offered a room and work at the motel, said Jennifer Kaplan.

They weren't fully compensated, Kaplan said, and they haven't spoken to Erin Barnes in weeks. Until late December, they lived in one apartment unit, sleeping on two mattresses and the floor. Paper cut in the shape of a Christmas tree adorned one wall, with an ornament inscribed by a child, "It is not abot me is abot Crimise."

"If I would have known this, I wouldn't have taken this job," Kaplan said. "But I trusted her. We all trusted her."

Erin Barnes could not be reached Friday for comment regarding the families' claims.

No written agreements supporting claims regarding the tenants' housing or possible employment were created or signed, according to the tenants and Barnes.

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