No one sets out to be homeless. And yet, homelessness is a chronic social challenge across the country, as it is right here in Denver. We cannot abide this. This is not who we are, as a community, and this is not who we want to be in the future. There are countless reasons that someone finds themselves homeless, and those need to be addressed in different ways.
First, some facts.
FACT: The Urban Camping Ban and Initiative 300 are two different things.
The Urban Camping Ban was instituted in 2012 to address the impact of the Occupy Denver movement. It had NOTHING to do with homelessness. Since passing the Urban Camping Ban, homelessness in Denver has more than quadrupled, and we have more urban campers than ever before. 233 people died on the streets in 2018 – a number that has been rising each year. We spent $61M on homelessness in the last year according to the Mayor, only to see our homeless population significantly increase. The Urban Camping Ban is not working. Initiative 300 would have repealed the camping ban, as well as many other ordinances we have that address how people use our parks and public spaces. It was bad policy and went too far – that’s why I voted against it. The camping ban is bad policy too, but we can replace it with tools that work.
FACT: The Urban Camping Ban doesn’t do any more to address homeless camping than any other ordinance we already have. Instead, the Mayor uses it to do inhumane “sweeps”.
$7M in taxpayer funds have been used in trying to sweep away the homeless problem. The Urban Camping Ban ordinance specifically made it illegal for the homeless to have possessions, and allowed police to take things. In the 7 years since it was passed, the Mayor has used it to justify sweeps and taking of blankets and possessions of the homeless, as written about here: https://www.westword.com/news/videos-of-denver-police-taking-blankets-from-homeless-have-gone-viral-8582970
FACT: The City of Denver was sued for the Urban Camping Ban
In February of this year, Denver settled a class action lawsuit over the December 2016 sweeps related to the Urban Camping Ban in which police officers took peoples blankets and possessions, as seen in this article: https://www.denverpost.com/2019/02/04/denver-homeless-camping-ban-trial/. The case went to federal court in 2016. Any policy that creates legal action against the city isn't good policy. There is word that another lawsuit is forthcoming.
FACT: The Denver Auditor just released a report finding that the Mayor has no plan to address homelessness.
The report stated that Denver has a “fragmented and ineffective” approach to homelessness, and that the Mayor has no comprehensive strategy to tackle it. It also said that there is no defined leadership within the city to address homeless challenges, and there are no specific goals or benchmarks to meet. More information can be found here: https://denverauditor.org/2019/04/audit-finds-denvers-approach-to-homelessness-is-fragmented-and-understaffed/
In Denver we have an opportunity to change the course of the thousands of people who are homeless here every year. In order to #UniteDenver, we must take bold action to change the city‘s current fragmented and wasteful spending that has had limited impact in resolving our homelessness and housing crisis.
Here’s my plan to fix Denver’s homeless crisis, in my first year in office:
Change our attitude towards homelessness
We will see homeless individuals as our unhoused neighbors who deserve our attention and respect, not as people to be pushed along. We will treat people with dignity and create solutions that help lift people up, recognizing that doing anything else is neither humane nor kind. We will recognize that until we see this city from the perspective of those most in need, we will never truly see the city’s challenges, and we will work together to overcome homelessness in Denver.
Stop the sweeps and shift to services
Sweeps are inhumane – they move people along to nowhere and result in individuals losing their possessions. The homeless sweeps that have actively moved the homeless encampments around the city have only worsened the situation and have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars – resources that could be directed towards solutions. We will:
§ Work with all first responders on incarceration diversion, which creates a cycle of homelessness. Instead, we’ll work to get people to services and support they need.
§ Provide temporary lockers for people to store their items while looking for work.
§ Deploy more mental health and social workers to meet people on the streets to establish what category they fall into and what services they require. The City can serve in a role to break down silos and coordinate services between providers to help leverage resources.
§ Provide trash receptacles and temporary bathrooms to keep our streets clean and to restore dignity by providing basic needs.
Provide Immediate Housing Solutions
Our unhoused neighbors will go where they can get services and where they can create safe shelter for themselves. We can provide these opportunities for them through temporary housing solutions while we ramp up more permanent solutions. We will:
§ Immediately provide at least 1-year housing vouchers for 500 individuals, or 10% of our homeless population, who have low-wage income, who are veterans, or who are seniors receiving Social Security, and who are ready to transition to housing
§ Provide additional city land to expand the tiny-home village model
§ Provide attainable housing for 200 working families living on the edge of homelessness in 6 months and an additional 200 families in 12 months
We will accomplish this by:
§ Re-appropriating the nearly $1 million in General Fund dollars currently allocated for sweeps
§ Eliminating up to 25 of the bloated administrative positions in city government, releasing about $2.5 million in General Fund dollars
§ Leveraging the funding with foundation dollars already committed to addressing homelessness, which combined will raise approximately $6 million
Increase the number of 24/7 shelters and improve the facilities
To significantly reduce chronic homelessness we must be aggressive in identifying the issues people are facing and getting them the services they need. Shelters that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week offer more opportunities to stabilize those who are chronically homeless, although we must be sure that all these facilities are safe, clean and adequate. Currently, Denver has too few day shelters and the night shelters put people on the street beginning at 6:00 AM. Therefore, city corners and parks are the natural gathering places to spend the day. We will:
§ Purchase beds for all shelters
§ Purchase 24-hour storage options to secure belongings
§ Invest in physical improvements for all shelters to maximize quality of stay, increasing voluntary use
§ Immediately begin to acquire additional shelter space and integrate services to build a larger shelter network, with access for LGBTQ people, couples, and people with pets
We will accomplish this by:
§ Re-appropriating $10 million in city funds to provide a capital surge into the shelter network
§ Leveraging funding with foundations and businesses to maximize the Capital Surge Fund
§ Improving the quality, quantity, and integration of the shelter network through robust and performance-oriented contracting with providers
Fix Management of the Homeless Issue in the City
The report stated that Denver has a “fragmented and ineffective” approach to homelessness, and that the Mayor has no comprehensive strategy to tackle it. It also said that there is no defined leadership within the city to address homeless challenges, and there are no specific goals or benchmarks to meet. We will:
§ Immediately stop the merger and burying of homelessness and housing operations within another city agency
§ Combine City homelessness and housing operations and funding by establishing the Office of Housing and Opportunity
§ Swiftly move toward a Charter Amendment to create the Department of Housing and Opportunity
§ Appoint an expert with deep experience in affordable housing and homelessness, who will be a Cabinet Member
The Auditor’s 2019 Report on Homeless Services states, “City efforts are often fragmented because they are managed by different agencies, further complicating the alignment of the City’s efforts.” (p. 16)
Since 2015, the current administration has paid for consultant reports and has known its approach to homelessness and housing was broken and unresponsive.
Adopt a housing first model
Data reflects that the best way to end homelessness is a housing first model. This includes accepting people where ever they are in their lives and getting them off the street into a safe place. The City must take a lead role in facilitating these efforts as many chronically homeless are not in a place to pass background checks to obtain housing through other means. There are multiple things the City can do to move to a housing first model:
§ Ultimately, we need to prioritize supportive housing that gives our homeless longer-term stability. Through a focus on affordable housing and partnerships with service providers we can provide housing with services that help our people get back on their feet. This housing can be a partnership between the city and both non-profit and for-profit organizations who are working to be a part of the solution.
§ Immediately partner with Denver Housing Authority (DHA) to expand the Housing Choice Voucher Program to meet the resource challenges of the over 15,000 families on the waitlist by:
- Revising and expanding the existing Memorandum of Understanding with DHA
- Providing $5.42 Million to the Housing Choice Voucher Program
- Housing up 300 qualified-families from the DHA Waitlist
§ Work more closely with our non-profit partners who are building housing to expedite delivery with the support of the Affordable Housing Fund.
§ Require more of the private development community to support housing needs in the “missing middle” for our teachers, fire fighters, police officers and workers.
Provide employment opportunities
Two years ago, the City of Denver launched the Denver Day Works program, which provides day labor for pay to our homeless while providing employment support and job training to get them into permanent employment and housing. Through my leadership the River North Art District was the first organization to bring this program to neighborhoods. In its first year, more than 100 people gained full-time work. This program should be expanded, and partnerships with other organizations should be a goal. People regain dignity when they have stability, housing and a purpose, and we can help provide that and address labor shortage gaps in our city.