By Doug Hrdlicka
Kim Jefferson is excitedly preparing for her grandchildren, one six and the other three years old, to visit her in June. She has already bought two jars of milk chocolate candy and is receiving regular calls from her grandchildren to remind her of their anticipated visit.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect because recently Jefferson found housing stability through The Delores Project after winning the organization’s lottery for an apartment in the new Arroyo Village that just opened off 12th and Knox.
“Now that I have my own place I don’t have to go as much [to visit them], said Jefferson, “they can come see me.”
Jefferson came to Colorado three years ago on a tide she hoped would bring relief from a 13-year marriage fraught with abuse and infidelity. Her arrival was loaded with challenges she didn’t anticipate, among them housing insecurity and tragedy that pulled her back to Detroit.
“I didn’t want anything, I didn’t want the car, I didn’t want the equity off the house, I just want[ed] my things that he had in the garage,” said Jefferson.
While in Colorado she injured her back slipping on stairs at work and was unable to return. During that time, she was staying with her cousin who was dying of lung cancer, who Jefferson was also helping.
“I moved with her and her husband on Tower Road until the day she passed away,” said Jefferson, “I had it hard with her, very hard. I washed her up, I cooked for her, I took her to the doctors, I did everything for her.”
Soon after, her uncle died of prostate cancer, and when she went back home, her mother fell and was hospitalized. Soon after she, too, passed.
“I never left her side,” said Jefferson. “18 days I stayed in the bed with her. They came and said she’s not going to make it, they gave her six days.”
Jefferson returned to Colorado homeless. Later, she would find solace at The Delores Project which led her to the lottery and her new home.
The Arroyo Village opened in March, offering an overnight shelter, supportive housing apartments and affordable housing apartments all under one roof. The facility holds 60-80 beds in new dorms, with lockers for any individual to house their belongings, 35 low-income supporting units, and 95 affordable housing units.
Overlooking the neighboring Arroyo green belt, after which the community was named, the design for Arroyo Village was centered on trauma, more specifically, the trauma-informed care model.
The model creates a space that is suitable to someone who has undergone some form of trauma, which was given rise by the concept that empowerment and relationships can help a person overcome the trauma in their life. It allows for open spaces and natural light along with furniture that is more conducive for trauma victims.
The Delores Project and Rocky Mountain Communities [RMC] owned the plots of land prior to construction. The properties hosted aged housing units and another shelter, all more than 50 years old. The desire to amplify their impact brought the two together in 2013.
“We were neighbors,” said Tracy Gargaro CEO of Rocky Mountain Communities. “Our former CEO looked across and said, ‘gee, I wonder if there is an opportunity.’ The property was a little too small to redevelop, just a half a block, but maybe together we could do something.”
The project took six years to complete and was the most ambitious project that both RMC and The Delores Project shouldered.
“The idea is to help people both move out of their car or off the streets and move into an apartment for the first time in years,” said Gargaro. “And then do everything in our power by way of counseling and case management, and that’s mostly through The Delores Project, to keep them in those units.”
Laura Rossbert, Deputy Director at The Delores Project, came forward with the idea that care and design should be complementary and suggested the architecture should imbue the trauma-informed care model. Together, she and Chad Holtzinger from Shopworks, the architect firm that designed the new building, attended a seminar that shared key features in accomplishing a trauma-informed design.
“Delores invited us, Shopworks, to attend the first day of that training,” said Holtzinger. “We took eight hours of feverish notes because everything that came out of this trainer’s mouth was jaw dropping. I was stunned.”
Trauma-informed care is a model that Rossbert had previously been familiar with and uses it to help guests towards empowerment.
“The way that people heal from trauma is by building relationships, kind of grounding themselves and being empowered,” said Rossbert. “In our shelter we have a guest advisory committee, so when we make any major change to the shelter, staff talks about it, board members might talk about it, depending on what it is, but most importantly, guests get a say in what that looks like.”
Giving the guests a voice has resulted in amenities that the caretakers didn’t think about in prior facilities, like an ice machine.
“Ice machine was the thing, they would be like, ‘you have an ice machine for us’ and they’re like clapping and hollering and I’m like, oh my God, we would have given this to you years ago had we known, but its like when you spend all day outside on a hot summer day nothing feels better than a cup of ice,” said Rossbert. “That’s why in designing it is so important to talk to people who are going to live there because they know better, and they experience spaces in a different way than I do.”
The offices of the case managers and counselors are also in the dorms per the request of the guests to ensure trusted people are nearby.
The hallways and entrances are wide with windows and it is equipped with little nooks for people to have quiet space and large communal areas where mingling and conversation can happen.
Each unit is fully furnished with a sofa, bed and kitchen appliances, which excites Jefferson because she loves to bake.
“And when I walked in the door, I didn’t even want to say this,” said Jefferson, “I got on the floor and prayed ‘thank you Jesus’ and kiss[ed] the floor, I didn’t kiss the floor but I did get on my knees and prayed and cried.” ■