Carey Jones and several other Aspen Cove residents opened their doors to show the community their new apartments.
Jones had been homeless in the Moab area for 28 years.
But not anymore.
With a smile, he showed visitors around his warm, one-bedroom apartment, opening cabinet drawers stocked with food and pointing out the beautiful view of the Moab Rim from his living room window.
On a small table sat a Moab landscape that Jones says he painted — inside — from memory.
Karen Dolan, CEO of Four Corners, said the Aspen Cove apartments effect real change for community members like Jones, who struggle with homelessness and mental illness.
“These are human lives that are being changed by having Aspen Cove open,” Dolan said.
Sharon Relph, director of Interact, said funding for Aspen Cove came from several sources, including Four Corners, a Utah Community Development Block Grant, and a zero percent interest Olene Walker loan. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supplied most of the furniture and some appliances.
Relph said Moab residents with chronic homelessness and mental illness need access to housing, yet because they often have a criminal history, poor rental history, or bad credit, they are ineligible for most subsidized housing.
In 2003, Interact opened the eight-unit Willow apartments, which serve homeless and mentally ill clients in need of daily support from in-house staff.
But as some Willows residents progressed in their health and became ready for more independent living, Relph said it was difficult for them to find affordable housing in Moab for which they qualify.
“Aspen Cove will bridge that gap,” Relph said.
Aspen Cove residents pay rent totaling 30 percent of their income, in accordance with the Utah Housing Authority’s affordability index.
And although Aspen Cove apartments are for residents who are more independent, Relph said they still have access to case managers, who will provide a necessary support system.
Sara Melnicoff, who works with the homeless in the Moab community, said a safe environment and a place of one’s own can greatly assist people with mental illness.
“The stigma attached to mental health issues can be daunting,” Melnicoff said. “Aspen Cove is a safe environment in which the residents have case managers that can help them over bumps in the road. A sense of pride in having one’s own place can go a long way toward good mental health.”
Melnicoff has observed that people become homeless because of mental health challenges, financial and medical issues, substance abuse and “plain old bad luck.”
She said that when homeless find housing, they can begin a necessary healing process.
“It has been proven over and over again that when homeless get into housing they tend to deal with the issues that led them to homelessness in the first place,” Melnicoff said.
She noted that providing housing for homeless individuals can also significantly reduce costs for state and federal institutions.
“As they start to heal and grow, they are an asset to the community instead of a liability,” she said. “It is subtle, but the savings start to add up — less incarceration, less police time spent on arrests and bookings, fewer ER visits.”
Dolan said housing an individual for one year costs approximately $10,000. But to leave that same person on the streets costs about $20,000.
“A person on the street costs about $20,000 because of emergency services, the police, the jail, and the ER — all of those costs together,” Dolan said. “It makes financial sense and it also makes human sense to create housing for homeless and mentally ill people.”
But ultimately, Dolan said, Aspen Cove is about helping community members in need.
“These are our brothers and our sisters and our aunts and our uncles,” she said. “These are our community members.”