In church basement 30 years, charity seeks avenue location
Westside CARES has put down earnest money toward purchasing a half-acre property with a 9,600-square-foot commercial building at 2808 W. Colorado Ave. and hopes to relocate there within two months.
The two-story building would be used for all the charitable agency's staff and services except the food pantry, which will continue to operate at the Westside Community Center, according to Steve Brown, Westside CARES executive director.
He cautioned, however, that the deal is not yet final and “will likely not happen for about a month. If the agreement goes through, and there are no significant bottlenecks, I would expect us to be occupying by the end of June.”
Started in 1983, Westside CARES is a collaboration of 22 churches/religious groups that provides a range of emergency services to needy local residents. Eligibility is a consideration for most assistance requests, particularly to get help with rent or utilities. Also, there are limits on how often households can receive aid.
The private nonprofit has always operated, rent-free, out of the basement of Bethany Baptist Church, 1930 W. Colorado Ave. However, requests for services have greatly increased over the years, and at 9,600 square feet, the new locale is over twice as big as the basement, with a 48-space parking lot that should handle staff and clients. Plus, Brown said, the church has made it clear it wants to go in a different direction now with the basement space.
The relocation has been reviewed without opposition by two prominent Westside business groups, the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) and and the Avenue Task Force (ATF), as well as the residential advocacy group, the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN). According to interviews, the initial concerns of these groups were allayed after Brown and WSC board members said the move would not mean an overnight shelter or soup kitchen.
“We'll have to see what happens, but we're OK with it as long as it doesn't encourage professional panhandling. They're the ones we have issues with,” said Welling Clark, a member of the ATF and also president of OWN. By contrast, he elaborated, Westside CARES tries to “give people a hand up, not a handout. It's not the same person again and again.”
Also, Clark believes the hours that the agency is open to the public - 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 4:30 to 6:30 Thursday night - should not conflict too much with those of nearby restaurants.
Dave Van Ness, executive director of the OCCA, said his wife works with a similar charity in the Monument area (Tri-Lakes CARES). As a result, “I'm confident this is no Marian House, with people hanging around with grocery carts and so forth. They keep close tabs on the people they help.”
Brown said WSC will do everything possible to be “good neighbors.” He expressed the goal of walking the neighborhood, to let residents know about the agency's mission.
A problem at the current location, he admitted, is that “some guys and a few women” come to the office in the morning for coffee and cookies and then linger in the church parking lot, often smoking cigarettes. “That's going to be an issue for us as this moves forward,” Brown said, “how to be true to our ethic of hospitality and not encourage people to loiter around our door and on the sidewalk in front.”
In addition to space, he said the biggest upside to the relocation will be “making our organization accessible to the public. The basement is not that accessible.”
Having an address on the avenue will also make the agency more visible. And the increased space could allow expanded services in the future, he said.
However, no expansion plans are in the works. The priority, after the purchase, will be a capital campaign to augment WSC funds, he pointed out.
Currently, the nonprofit has five paid staff, plus a Penrose/St. Francis nurse on site. “In addition,” Brown said, “each day we have between six and nine volunteers who come in for various activities. This totals to between 30 and 35 distinct volunteers who come through our doors every week; but never that number at any one time.”
As for clientele, “in an average week, we have between 160 and 180 households sign into our office. I think it has maxed out at 240 (that was a rather hectic week), and it should be noted that we often have more than one person physically present for each name on the sign-in log.”
The 2808 property was renovated six years ago, but is vacant now and needs some work, Brown said. In recent years, it has been a real estate office, a commercial retail center (Adobe Walls) and a medical office building.
WSC is still deciding how best to use the space, but Brown believes that, unlike the basement, there will be room for separate waiting areas - one for families with children and another for the folks who are “pretty rough hewn,” as he put it.
Westside Pioneer article