Denver, CO

Denver spends $25 million on homeless shelters, long-term housing

David Heitz

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The city of Denver approved agreements Monday for more than $25 million in services to the homeless.

Two of the contracts were extensions. A contract with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless was increased by $2.8 million for a total of $5.2 million. The contract provides money through the end of the year for housing and assistance to people experiencing homelessness.

Two separate contracts of about $1.2 million each also were awarded to Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. One of the $1.2 million contracts will be used through the end of 2023 for treatment and housing for 180 people. Sixty people will be housed annually. The other contract will be used this year to house vulnerable populations. It will provide extensive case management services and health care to people experiencing homelessness.

“The team will provide assistance in healing from trauma, addiction, mental health issues and homelessness through assessment, treatment planning, benefit acquisition, care coordination, and crisis response,” the contract states. “These interventions will support long-term housing stability. The team will work to develop community supports through engagement, socialization, life skills, peer activities and vocational programming.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I currently receive permanent housing, health care and intensive case management through Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Salvation Army gets $18 million for shelter

A contract with the Salvation Army was increased by $7.3 million and approved for a total of $18 million for services through June 30.

The money will fund hotel-motel vouchers and services at the city owned shelter at 48th and Colorado.

I experienced homelessness for a year in Denver. I used to stay at Salvation Army Crossroads. The conditions were less than comfortable, with sleeping mats strewn on a concrete warehouse floor. Men were crammed against one another, and the bed bug infestation was severe.

Several improvements have been made to the shelter since the city acquired it, sources tell me. They say it is much cleaner, has professional employees, and men are off the floor and sleeping on cots now.

During the height of COVID-19, the National Guard helped run the shelter for a while. Previously, fights and drug use were rampant. The shelter also had issues with the Denver Fire Department.

Money allocated for housing sometimes means temporary shelters, as is the case with Salvation Army. Denver Out Loud, a homeless advocacy group, stresses that’s not really a long-term housing solution. Real housing solutions are permanent, not just one night in a shelter or three nights in a motel, the group maintains.

Supporters for homeless housing very vocal

Several people spoke during Monday’s public comment period about housing. Pam Hubbard said she lives in District 10, near the Golden Triangle. She said there is no affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness or even essential services workers in the Golden Triangle.

“We must have affordable housing options for all the residents of Denver,” Hubbard said.

A man named Jesse who described himself as the next mayor of Denver spoke on behalf of several black organizations. He blasted the City Council for continuing to allow the city to “sweep” homeless encampments.

Mayor Michael Hancock calls the sweeps "cleanups." These are pre-dawn events where police and housing authority officials shoo the homeless out of encampments that have sprung up around Denver.

Activists say the city sweeps have increased in number, possibly as much as triple over last year. They are in the process of tallying up the costs.

One speaker during public comment time said the city should stop spending money on homeless shelters. She said the shelters are so unsafe many people do not want to stay in them. She said the money would be better spent permanently housing people experiencing homelessness.

Stats show homeless problem worsening

The problem of homelessness is getting worse nationwide. A report released last month by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and Colorado Coalition for the Homeless found “A national shortage of 6.8 million affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income (ELI) renter households, those with incomes at or below the poverty level or 30 percent of their area median income,” according to a news release.

“For the second year in a row, there are just 37 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 ELI renter households nationwide. Seventy-two percent of the poorest renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing with little left over for other basic necessities.”

Homelessness in Denver is even worse than the national average. “In Colorado, there are 162,557 extremely low-income households but only 49,447 affordable rental homes available to them,” Colorado Coalition for the Homeless reports. “The result is a deficit of 70 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 households with extremely low incomes, and 74.4 percent severely housing cost-burdened households at a high risk of homelessness in Colorado.

“Conversely, for people living at 100 percent of the area medium income (or with a moderate household income), there is a surplus of 103 units available per 100 needed, showing that the greatest need for units are for those who are least likely to be able to afford them.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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