Millions spent on homeless issue could house them all, group says

David Heitz
A city crew sweeps an ecampment site in Denver.Denver Homeless Out Loud

Millions of dollars in city homeless expenditures that do nothing to permanently house people could be used to house most all the city’s homeless population, a local advocacy group says.

In its latest video production, the advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud makes it case. They report that Denver City Councilwoman Candi CDeBaca advanced a budget measure that would have housed a thousand people permanently. She did not find support from her colleagues.

“If these thousand would have been housed than two-thirds of the people you see on the streets in Denver would have been housed in apartments,” says Ana Cornelius of Homeless of Out Loud, narrator of the video. The video was produced by The Urban Camping Network.

“Let’s house them, let’s house them all,” Cornelius continues. “Right now, we could end this. The noise at night … the needles … the poop …. All of it. Let’s house them now. We have solutions readily available right now.”

A recent study by Common Sense Institute estimated Denver is spending at least half a billion dollars a year on issues related to homelessness.

Gig economy, minimum wage workers suffering

Cornelius notes that many people who are homeless work in jobs such as grocery stores and food delivery. As someone who experienced homelessness, I met several people on the streets who drive for companies such as Uber and Grub Hub.

“Take care of those who drives buses, deliver food, man grocery stores,” Cornelius states. “The ones that provide the basic needs for us, they can’t get housing in Denver.”

Cornelius issues a call to action. “We have a lot of common ground to build upon.” She said that people experiencing homelessness in Denver could be housed before winter if the City Council had the political will.

She called for solutions, not sweeps of encampments. “Let’s house the people,” she said. “We spent the same amount of money to not house them.”

The cost of housing everyone

Last year Homeless Out Loud posted on its website estimates for housing the entire homeless community. It includes:

Hotel housing for at least 2,000 houseless people, $51 million. The city recently spent $17 million on an existing contract with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless to run hotel rooms for 670-plus people,” the group reported. “If we triple this spending, we could house at least 2,000 houseless people in hotels. This could house the entire population of shelter guests (noted at 900) plus another 1,100 people staying outside or in other houseless situations.”

Money for housing could come from police budget

The group says the money could come from a reallocation of funds from the police or sheriff’s department. “It could also come from the existing shelter budget as all shelter guests could be moved to these hotels,” the group suggests.

Housing for at least 4,171 people: $834 million. “The city has stated that each ‘affordable’ housing unit costs them about $200,000,” Denver Homeless Out Loud reports. “Based on this estimate this proposed housing budget should house the total number of people counted homeless in 2020. This does not mean all homeless people as the Point In Time survey is a known undercount, but it would be a good start.”

Again, the group recommends money come from the police and sheriff’s departments and shelter budgets.

‘A disgrace in a developed nation’

“The cost of creating attainable housing units from the ground up versus as vouchers for existing units versus renovation of existing non-functional hotels/housing versus tiny homes or other alternative housing on vacant land all differ,” the group reports. “But if all this $800-plus million went directly to creating housing, all of the 4,171 counted houseless people could be housed.”

The latest video to be released by Homeless Out Loud ends with a message to reach out to elected officials. “Get on your computers and write your city council members,” Cornelius said. “You don’t want to see it; I don’t want to see it either.

“People shouldn’t be living outside, it’s a disgrace in a developed nation such as this.”

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO

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