By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) After housing people experiencing homelessness since April 2020 at a cost of more than $16 million, Aloft Hotel downtown likely will cease operation as a non-congregant homeless shelter by the end of April.
The Finance and Governance Committee of the Denver City Council approved the change Tuesday. The full City Council still must sign off on the plan, too. Between April and July, the city will work to restore the hotel, owned by Marriott, to its pre-homeless shelter condition.
The 140-room hotel has been a flashpoint for complaints. Neighbors said residents openly use drugs outdoors. Sabrina Allie, director of communications for HOST, has served as a contact point between the city and the Upper Downtown Neighborhood Association, or UpDoNa.
According to HOST, almost 500 people at risk for COVID were temporarily housed in Denver area hotels during the pandemic. Most were elderly or disabled, including those at Aloft.
Aloft residents 'left or dead'
Last month, a guest from Aloft stood before the City Council and said Aloft residents had been ‘left for dead.’ Anthony Mitchell said not only are there problems at the hotel, “We can’t get a hold of the Salvation Army site operator for our maintenance requests, and also the emergency telephone line system here is in all kinds of basically in disrepair.”
Mitchell explained one resident “actually accessed the emergency phone line system and sent out a plea for help saying that all of the residents here had been left for dead.” Like that man, Mitchell said he wants to bring attention to the plight of hotel residents. “Hopefully someone will be able to address our concerns out here,” he told the council during public comment time. “And that’s really about all I have. Thanks a lot.”
The council does not respond to residents during the public comment period in order to allow more time for others to speak. But on Tuesday, Councilmember Chris Hinds said he visited Aloft last month. He said the hotel guests also were aggravated by drug use outside the hotel. Hinds said the Salvation Army had devised a plan to better work with neighbors. Hinds suggested the Salvation Army and other organizations follow the neighborhood outreach model developed by Harm Reduction Action Center.
Salvation Army, Colorado Coalition for Homeless respond
"Our housing case management team is actively working to help those staying at Aloft to overcome the barriers that have prevented them from finding housing stability on their own," Salvation Army spokesman Mike Jaworski said. "To date, more than 35 individuals have been housed since The Salvation Army assumed the case management role at Aloft. It’s been a privilege to serve vulnerable Denver residents during this challenging time."
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless recently stopped providing health care services at Aloft. "We no longer provide services at Aloft," Coalition spokesperson Cathy Alderman said in an e-mail. "I’m sorry to hear about the issues over there and hope that they get resolved quickly. We just haven’t had the staff capacity to send clinicians over there like we did last year so all of the services there are provided by the City and Salvation Army."
Working to relocate residents
It is not immediately clear where the Aloft residents will go. As other protective action hotels have closed, headlines about displaced residents have followed.
“The population served at this location include individuals who are most vulnerable to negative outcomes if they contract COVID-19, including older populations and individuals with underlying health conditions,” according to an executive summary from the Department of Real Estate to the council. “Many of the occupants at this property use wheelchairs, walkers, are on oxygen tanks or have other severe health conditions. Keeping units available during this pandemic for this population provides an increased well-being for these individuals.”
The Park Avenue Inn, formerly a La Quinta, would remain the last protective action hotel in Denver if Aloft closes as planned in April. Separate contracts provide three meals daily to Aloft residents as well as 24/7 security. Those contracts will also end in April.
According to a representative of HOST, every effort will be made to place Aloft residents in permanent housing. "Housing is the goal but shelter is the backstop."
Councilmember Robin Kniech said she was disappointed the city decided not to buy the hotel.
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