Westside CARES moving into new building, opening to public Sept. 23
Westside CARES is finally leaving the basement.
After several months of negotiating, studying and deciding, the private, emergency-help agency has closed on the two-story office building at 2808 W. Colorado Ave. that it will call home.
At 9,600 square feet, the new locale has over twice as much space as the Bethany Baptist Church downstairs at 1930 W. Colorado Ave., where Westside CARES has operated since a consortium of local churches (22 now) started the operation in 1983.
Executive Director Steve Brown, with the help of other staff and numerous volunteers, began moving furniture and various supplies to the new site this week.
“There's been a lot of good energy about this,” he said. “We've had good support from the community.”
The last day at Bethany will be Monday, Sept. 16.
The CARES office will be closed for the rest of that week, although Brown noted for the record that the CARES food pantries will be open - Tuesday at Trinity United Methodist Church, Wednesday at the Westside Community Center and Thursday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
The office will then reopen for business at the 2808 building Monday, Sept. 23. “We'll unlock the doors and see how things go,” Brown said.
Westside CARES has always had a rent-free situation with Bethany, but its leadership began seeking a more prominent location about a year ago, mainly in response to continuing accessibility issues - people have fallen on the basement stairs - and a lack of space amid increasing requests from citizens in need.
Brown reiterated that the nonprofit entity wants to be a good neighbor to businesses and residents; when plans were forming for the move, he met with leaders of several Westside citizen groups.
A lingering concern from the Bethany location was that clients were sometimes known to hang around the church parking lot and smoke cigarettes. Brown hopes to curtail such practices at the new location.
The agency is earmarking the door next to the driveway (on the building's east side) as the main entrance, instead of the door off Colorado Avenue. The idea is to keep people from streaming in off the avenue - a plan that will be boosted by the presence of a 48-space parking lot behind the building that comes with the property.
Dated 1958 in Assessor's Office records, the building comes as-is, but Brown described that as a “pretty nice is.” Renovated about six years ago, it is structurally solid, has a working elevator and includes large rooms to accommodate the agency's needs for storage space, a waiting area, conference room and workers who need to be in close proximity. There's even an apartment on the second floor where a caretaker (also custodian) will be able to live.
Before the closing, the building had sat vacant for several months, during which a water leak caused extensive damage. The previous owners repaired all that, including new sheetrock, paint and carpeting, Brown said.
An immediate need is for a sign. This week, the real estate company still had its for-sale placard in the window. Brown expects that to be gone soon, and a Westside CARES sign will be placed inside a space designated for that purpose facing Colorado Avenue.
In the months to come - along with a church fundraising campaign to recoup purchase costs - the agency plans to make various improvements. These include improved handicapped access, roof insulation, making the east-side access a walkway (by closing off the driveway access to the avenue) and building a “privacy wall” between the driveway/walkway and the neighboring restaurant, Brown said.
With the new location, Brown predicted that “there's going to be confusion for a month or six” because many of the agency's clients “only see us once in a while” and will likely go to the old place and wonder what happened. Westside CARES will leave a sign up there, he said, but he added that “we have no control” how long it might stay there.
Westside CARES provides a range of emergency services to needy local residents. At the old location, Brown estimated that representatives of 160 to 180 households a week would sign in.
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 nonprofit has five paid staff, plus a Penrose/St. Francis nurse on site and about 35 volunteers a week.
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