Some families on brink of homelessness as Aztec Motel closes

By Jakob Rodgers Updated: November 15, 2013 at 9:24 pm • Published: November 15, 2013 | 8:45 pm 0

Tears in her eyes, Barbara Jackson left her room at the Aztec Motel bound for an apartment, one she can finally afford.

"God opened doors... he did it," Jackson said.

Meanwhile, her neighbor resumed life on the brink of homelessness.

The women were among the last to leave the Aztec onFriday, ending a nearly four-year run for the transitional housing program that had served about 2,350 people since opening in 2010.

Homeward Pikes Peak officials decided in late October to shut down the program at 1921 E. Platte Ave. in favor of offering housing to mothers receiving substance abuse treatment. The nonprofit will dip into its reserve fund to begin the new program in early January, because no grants have been awarded to run the $300,000-a-year venture, said Bob Holmes, Homeward Pikes Peak's chief executive.

"I've had enough positive feedback to make me feel, not overconfident, but fairly confident... we'll have support from foundations," said Holmes, who added that he's applied for several grants.

On Friday, the last tenants to leave the closed program told of a frantic search to find housing for the roughly 75 people who lived at the converted motel in late October.

The program originally served people who camped across Colorado Springs during the Great Recession in 2009. It evolved, though, to mainly serve families long enough to get them into more stable housing.

Wooden cabinets and bed frames were stacked alongside one building, and children's bicycles remained hitched to nearby racks, some abandoned.

At one end of the parking lot, a couple set traps for a handful of stray cats. At the other end, Jackson mingled with Teresa McLaughlin, the program's manager.

Like Jackson, most of the tenants moved into apartments or Section 8 housing across Colorado Springs, McLaughlin said. Seven people moved to the Salvation Army's R.J. Montgomery Center homeless shelter, she added.

More than a dozen tenants faced uncertain futures Friday as they packed their belongings.

John Crawford left with his wife and 6-year-old son after living at the Aztec for two months. They planned to live with friends in a one-bedroom apartment.

Sheri Cochran climbed into the same green sedan she once called home.

She spent a year living in that vehicle with her two daughters before moving in May into the Aztec Motel - a switch that offered much needed stability for one child, who is autistic.

"There was days we didn't have to cook because other people helped out," Cochran said.

She wept Friday before leaving, bound for a week-long motel room paid for by Homeward Pikes Peak. Another nonprofit turned her down for shelter earlier in the day - leaving her one week to find another place to live.

"After that week's over, then where are we going to go?" Cochran said.

Two other families were expected to stay in motel rooms funded by the nonprofit.

One of them - a mother and her two children - is expected to enroll in the new program for mothers battling substance abuse, Holmes said.

"If the mom's don't get clean and sober, the children are facing a really high chance of replicating the lives of the moms - poverty, homelessness, addiction," Holmes said.

In a nod to the precarious housing situations many tenants face, McLaughlin said she will remain on the nonprofit's payroll until Dec. 31 and continue acting as a case manager to some former residents.

But she's struggled with the closure as well - she hasn't found another job since learning of the program's end.

"We started all of this," McLaughlin said. "And I guess we're ending it all together."

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