Aurora Sentinel by RAMSEY SCOTT

AURORA | Homeless people don’t usually know where they’re going to sleep, and some Aurora high school students are exploring a way to address that issue.

One of the biggest issues facing Aurora and other cities in the metro area is how to provide housing for its homeless population especially as winter temperatures begin to creep in. A lack of space in shelters and a growing population means those who seek shelter when the weather gets colder could have nowhere to turn.

A group of students at William Smith High School are engineering what they hope may be a solution.

The students are working to build portable shelters to provide people with a temporary solution when a brick and mortar shelter isn’t available. The project is a continuation of an idea started last year by middle and high school students at Downtown Aurora Visual Arts.

While the class is working on two designs for the shelters, the idea behind both are similar. The shelter is made out of polycarbonate and sits on an aluminum bicycle trailer. When the shelter is fully extended, it is about 6 feet by 3 feet and when it’s not in use it can be folded up and only takes up about 3 feet by 3 feet.

“It’s a temporary solution for people to be able to have shelter overnight, and then be able to be moved out in the morning,” said Rudi Monterroso, program leader at DAVA who is also helping lead the class in the project.

Monterroso, who himself has been homeless, said the goal of the project is to find a place in Aurora that can store the shelters when not in use and then allow for enough space for them to be deployed at night when they need to be used. When the project was first conceived last year, the idea was to give out the shelters to the homeless population. But Monterroso said because the group feared the shelters could be stolen and the aluminum sold for money, the plan shifted to the current idea of a nightly distribution model.

While Monterroso is leading the class, the students are leading the project. The class lead the design process, raised funds for needed supplies and are in the process of building the two shelters. Students cut, sand, weld and solder every piece for the shelters.

“There’s definitely been some difficulties and struggles. We had some design issues, and so we had to modify the original idea. And we had to fund raise as well,” said junior Vanessa Bedolla, 16, who’s one of the project leaders. “But it’s been great to learn how to use the tools and how to use the skills we’ve learned and to work with what we have and persevere through the struggles and get things done. We’re doing this for a good cause.”

The project fits right in with William Smith’s expeditionary learning model, said David Roll, principal of William Smith.

“The idea behind all of this is kids learning real-life skills and being able to apply them to issues they see in their everyday life,” Roll said. “This allows them to have a positive impact on their community.”

They’re also working on a presentation to be given to the city of Aurora as part of their search for a partner, but Monterroso said that is on hold as they try and find the right group in the city to ask for a partnership.

“Writing the proposal has been more stressful than the building,” said senior Lexi Pershey, 17, who’s been working on the presentation. “It’s something I’ve never done before. There’s no guidelines on how to write the presentation.”

The students are working on an eight-week time line, when the class is set to end, for the project to be finished. When the shelters are built, Monterroso said he would be taking them up to the mountains to test them overnight to make sure they’re fit for being used as a shelter.

Monterroso said he’s been reaching out to groups that might help manufacture the shelters but there’s still a lot of unknowns about what will happen to the project if they can’t find a permanent home for the shelters.

While the future of the project after this stage isn’t known, Monterroso said he wants to keep pursuing it because he sees these shelters as being able to play a vital part in helping provide shelter for those in need.

James Gillespie with the Comitis Crisis Center said he couldn’t speak to the viability of the shelters but the mere fact that the students were working on the shelters would bring awareness to the issue facing the metro area.

“What I will say is it takes innovation to make a real difference and if what we have always done in the past was working, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now,” Gillespie said. “The fact that our local students are making real attempts at finding an innovative approach to this issue is really inspiring.”

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