DENVER (CBS4) – As Denver continues to struggle with high rent rates, City Council is working to open new affordable housing, as well as keeping the units it has for as long as possible. But, even with all these efforts around affordable housing in Denver, the wait times are daunting for those experiencing homelessness.
A tiny motel room on Colfax is the last stop for Va’Lillian McGuire and her cat, Mufasa.
“I’ve used the balance of all my income,” she told CBS4.
The 61-year-old moved to Denver in July, thinking she had housing lined up.
“I had contacted on the internet, an apartment and a person who told me that they accepted Section 8, they were anxious to have me move up,” McGuire explained.
She soon realized that the apartment on the internet was a scam. McGuire was homeless.
“It was scary. It was very scary,” she said.
She lived in her car for a couple of weeks, and in a shelter, but there she couldn’t keep her cat.
“My cat is very important to me. We’ve come through a lot. We’ve come through a lot to get here,” she said of Mufasa.
Now she’s paying a lot of money every night for the tiny room, all the while, looking for an affordable place she can move into.
“I had a housing voucher through the Section 8 program. I’ve had it for years,” McGuire explained.
She applied for dozens of apartments and contacted several nonprofit agencies working on the front line of Denver housing crisis.
“Most of the persons I’ve run into want to help. They really in their hearts, I feel, want to help,” she said.
But there seems to be little help to give. The shortage of affordable housing creates a back log of need, and waiting lists that are sometimes 11/2 to 3-years long.
Volunteers of America is getting ready to open an affordable housing complex in Lowry. It has 72 new units. In one-day, they got 270 applications. Some of those applicants won’t qualify for those apartments, but the building will be full before it’s even finished. That squeezes fixed-income residents like McGuire out of the market.
“So, I don’t know what’s happening. I’m just waiting for some help,” McGuire said with a note of desperation in her voice.
Help did come for McGuire in the form of the Denver Rescue Mission’s STAR program, a transitional housing program for low-income earners.
“We also offer case management, our youth program, counseling, and mentoring,” said Donna Shelton, a case manager with STAR.
The average stay in the program runs 4-6 months. The Rescue Mission is successfully moving it’s clients into permanent housing by exploring a wide variety of housing options.
“We’re talking to homeowners who want to rent out their rooms. We’re looking at the different home share opportunities. We are encouraging other participants who may have built friendships in the program to go ahead and go in on an apartment,” Shelton explained.
They’ve even worked to move some people to cheaper housing out-of-state, if there is an appropriate support system in place.
“This is your new room,” Shelton said to McGuire.
“This is cool,” McGuire responded.
McGuire gets her own room at The Crossing, and access to help in finding a permanent place to live. She even gets to keep her cat.