The Denver City Council voted Monday to extend the homeless emergency declaration in the city, but not unanimously. Council members Flor Alvidrez and Amanda Sawyer voted no.
Alvidrez said she does not believe it is fair for her district to have to host two of the micro-community sites. She said her district already hosts safe outdoor spaces and is the site of the new Warren Village Apartments and Urban Peak youth homeless shelter. She said all the talk about “equity” in deciding where to place the micro-community sites was just talk. “I don’t buy it,” she said. “Concentrating poverty is not the answer.”
Mayor Mike Johnston wants to place 11 micro-community sites across the city. Each micro-community would consist of 50 to 100 mostly one-person pallet shelters as well as modular spaces for restrooms, showers, laundry rooms, meeting rooms for mental health and addiction wraparound services.
Cole Chandler, the mayor’s homelessness czar, repeatedly said that seven of 11 sites proposed for micro-communities have higher than average Denver incomes.
Sawyer concerned about contracts, supervisor time
Council member Amanda Sawyer said she does not believe the city should be setting aside its procurement process. As part of an emergency declaration, cities can skip putting contracts out to bid to expedite procurement of goods and services.
Sawyer also said the emergency declaration means department heads are in meetings at the emergency operations center for about half the day. This is taking them away from other important projects in the city, she said.
Watson advocates for ‘criminal justice’
Council member Darrell Watson, who represents district 9, said the encampments have caused grave problems for business owners. He said the historic LGBT bar The Triangle may have to close before encampments are expected to be decommissioned by the end of the year. Watson said ending homelessness requires a “full spectrum” approach which includes “criminal justice.”
Chandler said the city is looking into creating a program that would offer support to businesses affected by encampments. He said American Rescue Plan Act money may be available for such a project.
Other council members said the need to do something about the homeless problem is urgent. Chris Hinds, who represents Capitol Hill, pointed out that the Golden Triangle also includes two proposed micro-community sites.
Councilwoman goes to bat for ‘working homeless’
Council member Stacie Gilmore spoke on behalf of the “working homeless” Monday. She noted there is an entire segment of homeless people who work every day and then return to a congregate shelter at night. Many of them have been doing this for many years. She noted it’s not fair to fast-track encampment dwellers into a pallet shelter or hotel room when these working homeless have waited many years for housing.
Chandler said everyone has a fair shot at the multiple pathways to housings. He said there has been no cutting in the line.
Gilmore also told Chandler the mayor’s office should consider providing restrooms and sharps containers to all of the city’s encampments. She said the city is knowingly allowing encampment feces to run off into the Platte River. Hypodermic needles litter the city because not enough sharps containers are available, Gilmore said.