Denver, CO

Denver set to renew contracts for homeless shelters

David Heitz
Denver Rescue Mission CEO Brad Meuli inside a shelter.Denver Rescue Mission

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Denver will consider extending shelter contracts Wednesday during the Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee meeting.

That's despite problems at the shelters, including:

· Not ADA compliant: Advocates for people with disabilities say Denver's shelters don't meet federal guidelines. Representatives of the City and County of Denver deny the allegations.

· Dangerous: Stabbings happen, and one security firm quit after a few days.

· Filthy: Residents complain the shelters aren't clean.

Problems at Denver Rescue Mission shelters

Most complaints about Denver's homeless shelters occur at shelters managed by Denver Rescue Mission.

The committee will vote to extend a contract with Denver Rescue Mission by $8.7 million for a new total contract amount of $13.7 million. The contract will run through Dec. 31, 2022. The agreement requires Denver Rescue Mission to provide 24/7 shelter operations, day shelter services, and case management at multiple Denver Rescue Mission sites.

The committee also will decide whether to extend a Denver Rescue Mission contract to provide emergency shelter activities for people experiencing homelessness or housing instability due to COVID-19. That approval would add $54,000 for a new total of $1,654,622 and a new end date of July 31, 2022.

Two people stabbed at shelters

Last November, a person staying at Denver Rescue Mission fatally stabbed an employee. At that time, KDVR Fox 31 reported a former shelter worker said security concerns were increasing. He said the mission cut security, and employees were worried.

In June 2020, a homeless shelter guest stabbed another guest at National Western Complex. The complex housed 600 men until officials closed it for the stock show. Denver Rescue Mission ran the shelter.

In April 2020, a security firm hired to watch over the National Western Complex shelter quit after only three days. The firm, Argus, said they had to furlough employees and could not fulfill the contract. However, a city council member told Denver 7 the firm did not feel it was a good fit for the shelter.

Lack of security questioned

"The Denver Rescue Mission has security presence as part of the standard operations," Derek Woodbury, Department of Housing Stability communications director, told KUSA.

The station did not know if the shelter had full-time security guards. A mission spokesman said the shelter increased security after the stabbing.

The reported shortcomings at Denver homeless shelters don't stop at safety. Advocates for people with disabilities show up during public comments at City Council meetings. They said the shelters don't meet Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

Denver 7 quoted John DeLeon with Servicios de la Raza. "It's bad," he told the station. "It's bad throughout the facility."

Contracts for Catholic Charities, Urban Peak

Other non-profits supplying shelter services have seen far less controversy. The homelessness committee will consider Wednesday adding $7.9 million to a contract with Catholic Charities and Community Services of the Archdiocese of Denver. That will continue the contract through Dec. 31, 2022, for a total of $14,493,84.

Catholic Charities will provide shelter services at various locations and programming for women and families with children experiencing homelessness.

The third contract with Urban Peak Denver will expand by $1,820,000 for a new contract totaling $2,480,000. The contract will run through Dec. 31, 2023. Urban Peak will provide shelter operations and programs for youth aged 15 to 24 experiencing homelessness within the City and County of Denver.

Earlier this year, Denver's office of the auditor announced it would evaluate the shelters and their policies.

After the committee approves the contracts, the full City Council still needs to give final approval.

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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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