Special thanks to Joe Vaccarelli at the GJ Sentinel for this article.
The House, an outreach organization that provides housing for homeless and at-risk teens, is taking its commitment to the cause to a higher level in 2020.
The organization, run by Karis Inc., is in the process of building a new 34-unit apartment complex that will provide a home for teens and young adults who are homeless or at the highest risk of ending up on the streets.
The building, now under construction on North 12th Street behind the Unity Church of Grand Junction near Horizon Drive, should be complete in September and will be the first permanent supportive housing facility for teens and young adults in western Colorado. A site in Boulder is the only other such facility in the state that has a similar model.
“There are very few of these in America. Permanent supportive housing for youth is really rare,” said John Mok-Lamme, executive director of Karis Inc., the company that oversees The House. “This is going to be for the kids who we know need the most support.”
The House is a temporary shelter for homeless youth ages 13 to 20.
The new building is known as the Karis Apartments, but Mok-Lamme said the naming rights have been purchased. The new name is not yet decided.
Local contractor FCI Constructors is working on the building.
The 34 units will be about 400 square feet apiece, will come fully furnished and include a kitchen and bathroom. There will be a common area with a coffee bar to encourage socialization, therapy rooms and landscaped areas outside.
Residents will be buzzed into the facility, which will be staffed 24 hours per day. Each person will have a lease that must be adhered to, but no one would pay rent and no lease would expire.
The buildout will cost about $5.5 million, not including landscaping and furnishings, Mok-Lamme said.
The House is working with Mind Springs Health and Rocky Mountain Health Plans to staff the facility.
Mind Springs will have one therapist and two case managers who will work on site.
Rocky Mountain Health Plans will provide funding, data support and staff support. Its employees working with the apartments will be off-site.
Both organizations committed to teaming up with Karis for at least 20 years.
Mind Springs Health has long supported The House and even offered services at its first teen shelter. The House has five other shelters, but the Karis Apartments will be by far its largest facility.
“We’re a strong supporter of permanent supportive housing in general,” Mind Springs Health Director of Operations Kathy Capps said. “We know the housing-first model works.”
In meeting basic needs such as housing, Capps said individuals are able to focus on other areas impacting their lives. She believes Karis is a leader in the field of helping youth, and this apartment complex is a key demonstration of that.
“If we can impact their lives, we can impact chronic homelessness over time,” she said.
Karis Inc. went through a competitive process to receive funding for the apartments. In winning the project, Boston Capital will own the majority of the building as it receives tax credits, but will not take an active role in the running of the operation.
Karis will own a portion of it, but will be the managing partner for the project. Mok-Lamme said it should be a fully owned community resource within 20 years. Karis will have to prove that it is serving teens and young adults most in need at the facility for Boston Capital to continue to receive its tax credits.
Mok-Lamme said the organization already knows most of the teens — who must be age 18 or older — who will start off living at the apartments.
Rocky Mountain Health President and CEO Patrick Gordon believes that the partnership between his organization, The House and Mind Springs was the determining factor in winning this project.
He expects to see more like it in the future.
“We are really excited about it. There aren’t really resources like that anywhere,” he said. “This is kind of the tip of the iceberg in health care involvement in supportive housing.”
BlueLine Development, a Montana-based organization, is serving as the developer and property manager for the project.
One staff member from BlueLine will serve as the on-site manager, according to Development Director Christian Pritchett.
This is the fourth supportive-housing project built by Colorado BlueLine and the first youth-focused project it has worked on. Staff and youth with Karis provided input for the design of the building.
“This one was special to us,” Pritchett said.
According to Mok-Lamme, there is not much data available on projects such as this and he hopes to work with a university partner to track the success of the youth living in the facility.
While information is scarce, he expects about 7% of the youth to move out each year as they become more stable, opening space for new tenants.
“We expect most of them to hit a level of stability and that they will want to find housing that is less restrictive and less youth-oriented,” he said.