Denver, CO

Council members rank homelessness top budget issue

David Heitz

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Workers sweep a homeless encampment in Denver.Denver Homeless Out Loud

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) The facilitator called it the "pre-game show" to the council's annual budget retreat.

Members of the Budget and Policy Committee listed projects Monday they want included in the upcoming city budget. Overwhelmingly, spending on fighting homelessness emerged on top.

"The story is we have a housing and homelessness issue," Councilmember Robin Kniech said.

Facilitator Elizabeth Suarez of Negotiations Unleashed gave each committee member a few minutes to plug their pet projects. They'll be able to do so more in-depth at their budget retreat May 20.

Then, the committee will draft a letter to the mayor alerting him of the council's priorities. The executive branch, the mayor's office, sets the budget.

"Consider this the pre-game show to the Super Bowl that takes place May 20, your retreat," Suarez told the council. "There's no time for Q and As, clarifications or debating. That will happen at the retreat."

Addiction, wraparound services critical

Council President Stacie Gilmore said the council members recently completed a survey. From it, 44 new ideas emerged for projects needing funding.

Homelessness was mentioned frequently Monday. Councilmember Chris Hinds said addiction and wraparound mental health services are critical to helping people move forward.

Several council members supported safe outdoor spaces or legal tent villages for people experiencing homelessness. The city also needs to provide tiny homes and safe parking spaces for people who live in their cars.

Litter in Denver needs priority

Councilmember Kendra Black also supported mental health and addiction services for people experiencing homelessness. She said litter removal also must be prioritized. Medians and bus stops are in disrepair citywide, she said. Waterways have become filled with shopping carts and furniture.

"Healthy neighborhoods are clean neighborhoods, and unfortunately there is a great increase of debris and litter all over our city," Black said. "I get complaints most every day."

Jail system grossly understaffed

Councilwoman Debbie Ortega said the Denver Sheriff's Department is not safely staffed, down 230 people in the jail system. "I think that's a dangerous low."

She said the city negotiated contracts with the sheriff's department last year. She wants to find out why jailers leave so soon after hire. "We need a supportive environment, so we don't have people leaving after we invest money in their training."

Constituent engagement needed after redistricting

Councilmember Kevin Flynn said he wants more money for engaging constituents, especially since almost every council district has new boundaries. District 4 is the only district that remains the same. Paul Kashmann also asked for more money for community engagement in his district.

Councilmember Chris Hinds suggested creating an Office of Community Engagement. He said it would build trust with the community. "People reach out to us, the people's branch, when they encounter problems in the executive branch."

Bonuses for grocery workers, help for elderly

Some committee members proposed expanding "Hero" bonuses for essential workers beyond city employees. Councilmember Robin Kniech proposed doing so for contracted workers, and councilmember Hinds even suggested workers in the private sector, like grocery stores, receive the bonus.

Councilmember Candi CdeBaca said the city needs to hire case managers to help the elderly.

"We have resources but not enough people to walk through and hand-hold people who don't have access to technology." She said much of that falls to individual council offices, which don't have enough staff members to help.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career at local newspapers. Today, I report on Denver and Aurora city halls for NewsBreak. Prior to joining NewsBreak, I worked several years as a health reporter and branded content writer in the healthcare space. I also worked many years as a news editor and city editor. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver.

Denver, CO
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