Espero means “I hope” in Spanish. That phrase captures the intent of a community collaboration to build a supportive housing community, Espero Apartments. For a team of Durango agencies including Axis Health System, Espero is a longtime labor of love. For the 40 tenants preparing to move in at the end of October, Espero is hope for the future.

Espero is the first property in Durango built exclusively to serve people with low incomes who have been homeless and are living with a disabling condition. The community features 40 one-bedroom apartments co-developed by BlueLine Development and Housing Solutions for the Southwest. The apartments were built on land donated by the City of Durango, and are located on a hillside south of Manna-The Durango Soup Kitchen at 1053 Avenida del Sol.

Housing Solutions is taking the lead to coordinate wraparound support from community agencies, including Manna and Southwest Center for Independence. The mission of Housing Solutions is to lead the way in providing help, hope and affordable housing through collaborative efforts.

“By providing services and housing in the same building, residents will have a strong support network in place with people they trust,” said Elizabeth Salkind, Executive Director of Housing Solutions of the Southwest. “After many years of working toward this goal, it is heartwarming to see local community members move into an affordable, safe place that they can call home.”

Axis is providing a team of three staff members to support tenants on site: lead therapist Leah Huddleston, case manager Lou Ann Little and intern Joji Davey.

“A lot of tenants have been camping or living on the streets,” said Stephanie Allred, Senior Clinical Director for Axis. “The task of our staff is to help all the residents make a successful transition to a communal setting. It may take about six months for tenants to be out of that hypervigilant fight-or-flight survival mode.”

Allred said the Axis team will be attentive to all healthcare needs – mental and physical – and set tenants up with resources. “We are not forcing treatment, just coaching when they are ready,” she said.

While Axis is widely known for providing behavioral healthcare for 60 years in the region, the nonprofit healthcare agency also operates integrated health clinics that provide medical and dental care to vulnerable and underserved populations. All of the clinics are accepting new patients of all ages, and payment options include Medicaid, Medicare and a sliding-fee scale.

Allred said Axis’ involvement has been five years in the making. She is excited about the design of the new housing, which includes views of a landscaped courtyard and downtown Durango. The modern design includes a communal kitchen, meeting rooms and office spaces. A telehealth cart will be available for virtual visits, psychiatry and access to support groups.

Two Americorps staff will be setting up social activities. “Our goal is to create a community – not just a place to live,” said Allred.