Many churches have decided to put their parking lots to better use, inviting non-profits to build affordable housing on their premises.
St. Francis Center Apartments | Denver, Colorado
Several years ago, the good people at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in the Capital Hill district of Denver wondered whether their parking lot was being put to its best and highest use. Today the St. Francis Center Apartments occupies a good part of the lot.
A six-story apartment building, St. Francis Center Apartments serves the most vulnerable population in the Denver region. All of its residents were formerly homeless. Many suffer from mental illness, chronic disease, drug addiction, and alcohol abuse. The building houses 48 one-bedroom units on floors two through five. One unit on the first floor is reserved for the resident community response manager. The sixth floor houses the offices of the support staff, a community dining and event room, and a roof garden with one of the best views of the city skyline. First floor also offers a common lounge and computer room. In the hallway, a niche intended for vending machines holds a table for free clothing and books instead.
The entire environment reflects its trauma-informed design: plenty of windows and light, numerous exits, so no feels trapped; color-coded floors make it easy to know which floor you’re on, given that the residential floors have identical layouts.
St. Francis Center has adopted a “Housing First” policy for the accommodation of the city’s most vulnerable population. Residents do not have to first get their act together in order to be accepted at St. Francis. Few have the resources to do so. Rather, they enter the Apartments with life in its current state. Some still use drugs; some still abuse alcohol; some still have untreated mental problems. The support staff works with them in a harm-reduction program. The aim is to stabilize their lives so that, after a year, they can move out on their own, bringing their section-eight housing vouches with them to their new homes.
Although the intense level support and counseling the residents receive has its costs, it is cheaper than the alternative: emergency room medical interventions, police encounters, and, sometimes, incarceration. The program, says Director Kathy Carfrae, is the smart thing to do. It is also the right thing to do. And St. John’s Episcopal provided the land to make it all possible. It leases the land to the St. Francis Center for one dollar a year.