Denver, CO

Denver homeless encampment crackdowns will include mandated addiction treatment, mayor says

David Heitz
Photo byDrug Enforcement Administration

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston was clear Saturday when someone asked during a House1000 town hall meeting what will happen to those who say no to free housing.

He said taking 1,000 people off the streets who accept an offer of free housing “allows us to focus much more rigorously on the enforcement of those who don’t (want the housing).” He said those in the grips of addiction will be offered “outpatient treatment and if not, we will get you inpatient treatment.” Johnston made his remarks during a town hall meeting at Evans School in Golden Triangle. The forum answered questions from neighbors of proposed micro community sites at 1199 N. Bannock and 1375 N. Elati.

Homeless advocates have forecast an expected enforcement sweep following the de-commissioning of encampments. Those fears appear well-founded.

Johnston beefs up police

The mayor’s 2024 budget includes historic increases to the police budget to add 167 new police officers. At a similar town hall event last month, residents demanded to know what would happen to people who refuse services and who currently break the law by breaking into houses, stealing cars and more. At one point the mayor exclaimed in response to a question, “You can get removed, or you can get arrested. That is the structure.”

Advocates for people experiencing homelessness have sounded the refrain that you can’t arrest your way out of homelessness. Others have said mandated addiction treatment rarely works.

Forming jail treatment partnerships

In September, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston said he is working on a plan that would expand mental health and substance abuse treatment in the city’s jails. He said during the budget hearing Thursday for the Denver Sheriff’s Department that he is in preliminary discussions with the sheriff’s department, non-profits and mental health service providers to create such a program.

At the same budget hearing, Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins said his department may be expanding the duties of deputies. The 2024 budget also calls for a $2.5 million increase to Denver Health to continue providing addiction and mental health services in the jail.

Council member Sarah Parady asked Diggins and Johnston the questions that led to their admission of the jail plan. She wanted to know if people who otherwise could receive substance abuse or mental health treatment outside of jail would be going to jail under the mayor’s new plan.

Mayor's vision coming into focus

“I will ask the mayor for a little bit of assistance in answering this question,” Diggins responded. “We have had preliminary conversations relative to what we’re going to do to meet the mayor’s goal and his vision of expanding services offered.”

Johnston said the services would be offered to “people sent to jail for existing crimes that would be better served by having access to treatment rather than not.” The mayor said the goal always is to provide treatment outside of the jail setting. But he said he anticipates an influx in the coming months of inmates that will need substance abuse and/or mental health treatment.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California 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 proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. 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 in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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