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Disability rights advocates: Denver Coliseum shelter in 'dire' situation

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Posted at 8:25 PM, Sep 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-22 22:25:16-04

DENVER — The emergency homeless shelter at the Denver Coliseum has become the emergency itself, according to some disability rights advocates who describe the conditions for people with disabilities as "dire."

They say FEMA money is being spent but the requirements for care are not being met.

"My leg was amputated, and I had diabetes and frostbite," said John Murphy said.

More than anything, Murphy is grateful for his home at the Denver Coliseum over the last two months.

"You have to appreciate it, but at the same time, there's a there's a lot of difficulty," he said.

The Coliseum was set up as an emergency shelter during the pandemic. Advocates said it only offers basic services for the 270 men who stay there.

But over time, John DeLeon with Servicios de la Raza was shocked about what he saw inside. He shared photos of people with disabilities or serious medical needs who he said were not getting critical care or access to resources.

"It's bad. It's bad throughout the facility," DeLeon said.

He will never forget what he saw the day he called for help from other advocates.

"He was sitting there half naked in full seizure and wasn't getting some of the help that he needed at that point in time," DeLeon said. "Just to see him rolling around naked like that was just kind of mind boggling to me why they would allow something like that to happen."

He called Mary Putman with The Recipricity Collective, and they have been sounding the alarm to the city and the Salvation Army for weeks. They said they've received little response.

"The shelter is paid for by FEMA funding. So, those are federal funds that then require Americans for Disabilities Act is in place, and that's not happening here," said Putman said.

Pandemic money is not going to those who need direct care, according to Putnam.

"There's a ton of money in the system, but we're not seeing it really directed in these direct services that are needed. They seem to be going more towards the industrial infrastructure of homelessness," he said.

Britta Fisher, the head of Denver's new Department of Housing Stability, disputes the claims that people with disabilities are not receiving care.

"People with disabling conditions are absolutely welcome at the Coliseum and are part of who we serve in our emergency COVID-19 response," Fisher said.

She said the City of Denver even hired a medical contractor to provide personal care for the Coliseum shelter.

"From what we have seen reported, it is being done," Fisher said. "I have visited the shelter on several occasions and we take these allegations very seriously. We'll need to have some more specificity from these advocates who have been bringing forward these concerns, but we have so far met with them, we have met with our providing partners and we are looking into them with the degree of specificity that we have."

In a statement, Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca said she is grateful to The Reciprocity Collective and their partners for raising the alarm about the situation at the Coliseum:

"Ever since we were alerted to this at the end of July, my staff and I have worked to connect them with city, state, and federal offices to seek solutions and remove barriers that shelter guests face in accessing the resources they need. We also convened a meeting with HOST so that these disability advocates and outreach workers could bring their urgent concerns directly to the city’s Shelter Operations team.

"The Coliseum’s shelter guests are my constituents — and they are among my most vulnerable constituents in District 9. So it’s very important to me that those charged with overseeing the city’s contracts for shelter operations are actually paying attention and are responding with the sense of urgency required to provide the personal assistance services that shelter guests need right now AND the resources they need to successfully obtain stable housing when the shelter closes in December."

Meanwhile, Murphy said the clock is ticking for him to find a place to live. The Coliseum shelter is set to close in December.

"I guess I'll just put it in god's hands," Murphy said, "and see what happens from there."

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