By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) Neighbors of the Aloft hotel in downtown Denver say they're frustrated by litter on the street and people smoking meth outside the hotel.
The city uses the hotel to house people experiencing homelessness at risk of catching COVID.
Neighbors say the hotel is managed poorly. Denver City Councilmember Chris Hinds said Friday that he agrees with them.
Neighbors told Hinds security fails to patrol the hotel's perimeter as promised. Hinds said the Department of Housing Stability told him guards must scan tokens with a wand as they make their rounds to prove the guard made the checks.
"If neighbors are not seeing that, there's a disconnect somewhere," Hinds said. He explained that the Department of Housing Stability agreed to increase the number of patrols.
Councilman would be OK living next to Aloft
Hinds made his comments during his Friday Facebook live chat. Some asked if he'd like to live next to Aloft.
"I'd be OK with it," Hinds responded. "I'd rather have 160 people in a shelter than in tents."
Hinds said he once lived next to the Horseshoe Tavern. He said it could get very noisy at night with the outdoor patio. He imagines living next to Aloft would be similar.
Hinds said that people loitering outside a hotel "is better than trying to get around them when they have a tent blocking the sidewalk," Hinds said.
Four ways of dealing with encampments
Hinds said the city repeatedly warns encampment residents before sweeps occur. He likened it to a bar closing. "At the end of the day, you know, when the bars close, you don't have to go home but you can't stay here," he said.
Hinds said the city has three choices for illegal encampments: Do nothing, take campers to jail, or take them to a hospital emergency room. A fourth approach would be taking them to the planned "diversion center."
People experiencing homelessness who break the law by openly using drugs or committing other low-level crimes would be fingerprinted and connected with services at the center on Elati Street.
'It's not a crime to be homeless'
During a City Council meeting in March, Councilmember Robin Kniech said the diversion center punishes homelessness.
"It is not a crime to be homeless," Kniech said. "This deeply concerns me. Drug use exists among housed and unhoused people," she continued, noting people experiencing homelessness can't hide in their homes to use drugs.
"Massive amounts of people without housing are not on drugs," she said, adding that people experiencing homelessness need help from service providers, not law enforcement.
Public Safety Director Armando Saldate told her it's important to "hold accountable those preying on those with substance abuse challenges."
Neighbors bought next to hotel, not homeless shelter
Another constituent told Hinds during the Facebook chat that people bought homes next to a hotel, not a poorly developed site for the homeless. They expected "standard hotel guests," Hinds said, "not 160 people experiencing homelessness that would be on the street if not for this hotel."
Hinds called the hotel "a legitimate way to get people off the street," adding it's low-barrier but not no-barrier. That means guests can't do drugs in the building or have visitors.
Hinds gathered his information first-hand from a formerly homeless resident of Aloft who addressed the council last week.
"I would never stay in a hotel where I couldn't have guests," Hinds said. He said guests can't congregate in common areas of the hotel or have other guests in their rooms.
Encampment sweeps slow, neighbors complain
One constituent told Hinds that the city isn't sweeping the encampments fast enough. Hinds responded the city must proceed with caution, so it doesn't get sued. "We have to tread lightly," he said, pointing out the city signed a settlement agreement regarding encampment sweeps.
The settlement agreement requires the city to give seven days' notice to encampment occupants before a sweep. "We have to be very measured in how we move forward with existing laws," Hinds said.
Hinds said that Denver focuses on sweeping encampments that have become public health hazards because they contain urine, feces, trash, propane, needles, or rodents.
He emphasized the executive branch of Denver's government, the mayor's office, enforces the laws. "You're complaining to me because it's like going into a black hole complaining to the mayor."
City Council to discuss Aloft contract
Hinds said that the City Council likely would discuss its contract with Aloft at its June 6 meeting. It is up for renewal.
The council has not yet approved the contract, which appeared two weeks ago on a committee consent agenda. From July through December, the city would spend $2.4 million to house 140 people at the Aloft hotel, 800 15th St., or $13,300 per day for 140 rooms at $95 per night, according to a city presentation. Multiple agencies have contracts to operate Aloft as a shelter.
The council also must approve a separate contract for $644,000 to provide food service through the end of the year at the hotel. Aloft will provide three meals per day.
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless provides case management and mental health services at the hotel. The Salvation Army serves as shelter administrator.
The city has contracts with four hotels to house people experiencing homelessness at risk for COVID. Hinds said that the city has been unable to find more hotels to participate in the program.
Much of the funding for the hotels have come from Federal Emergency Management Association grants, Hinds said.