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Denver Mayor Mike Johnston provides more details on plan to address homelessness

Existing rental units, hotels, tiny homes and commercial buildings are all part of plan
Mayor Mike Johnston July 25,2023.jpg
Posted at 5:30 PM, Jul 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-25 19:30:34-04

DENVER — Denver Mayor Mike Johnston provided more details Tuesday about his plan to address the city’s homelessness crisis.

Since taking office, questions have been piling up from citizens — and even city council members — looking for more specifics on his plan to move 1,000 unsheltered people into housing by the of the year.

A 2022 Point in Time Count shows about 1,300 people live on the streets of Denver each night.

Over the past five years, Denver’s unhoused population increased by 44%, according to the Common Sense Institute.

“[The] crisis continues and is expanding,” Johnston told reporters assembled in the mayor’s office. “It's one of the reasons why we think there's a real reason for action.”

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Johnston outlined four potential housing options, which include:

  • Existing rental units
  • Converted hotels
  • Micro-communities, such as Safe Outdoor Spaces and tiny homes
  • Large commercial buildings

Johnston said the city would partner with landlords to acquire existing rental units and “immediately house people into those units with leases.” Those who are moved into existing rental units would be provided with wraparound services, according to the mayor.
The second option would be for people to move into converted hotels.

“There are hotels that we can either use or acquire that could be used for housing locations. Those offer real benefits in multiple ways,” Johnston said. “One is some of them will have kitchenettes included. That means you have a complete micro-unit — you have a locked door, you have a bathroom, you have a shower, you have a kitchen. And given that, you have all the things you need for a sustainable micro unit. Some might not have kitchenettes, but do have a bath, shower, bed and storage.”

Johnston said the third option is micro-communities, which he highlighted often on the campaign trail. Last week, the mayor said he identified nearly 200 sites across the city where micro-communities could be built.

Finally, the mayor said larger commercial buildings could be converted into shelters.

“Those could be anything from old, unused elementary schools. Could be old churches, could be commercial warehouses,” Johnston explained.

Johnston said he’s pursuing an “all of the above” strategy to increase housing capacity.

“The more capacity we have, the more folks can get off the streets and into housing,” Johnston said.


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When presented with the possible scenario where unhoused people in Denver reject a shelter option, Johnston said his community conversations with the effected community show close to 90% of people want to take housing units offered. The city does not have the capacity to serve that many people right now, but is aiming for 40 to 50% in the near future.

“What we find is generally, those are people with our most acute mental health needs or most acute addiction-based needs, and they often require a different set of interventions,” Johnston said. “We are working with partners, including Denver Health and Mental Health Center of Denver, and others around those strategies. But our real focus is on the 90% or so that we know will take those units if we give them to them or make them available.”

After a city representative caused confusion last week at a community meeting, a Johnston spokesperson clarified in an email to Denver7 that the city is not pausing encampment cleanups or enforcement of the encampment ban.

Johnston pledged to establish better communications with the Denver City Council.

“We have committed to a process where we'll be briefing council members weekly on all of these developments in addition to the conversations we'll be having with them in their communities,” he said.

The mayor also plans to hold town halls with council members in their districts over the next 45 days.

Ana Gloom with Housekeys Action Network Denver said she and others worry about people who are homeless being criminalized through sweeps and harassment by police.

While she is pleased the mayor made homelessness a top priority, the focus shouldn’t just be on those who live on the streets.

“We don't want the city just to be like, ‘Okay, the encampments are gone. Problem's solved,’” said Gloom. “Rich people are happy because they can't see us anymore, but that's not dealing with the underlying problem in the first place.”

Johnston on Tuesday was asked how his policy differed from the previous mayor’s.

“It’s very different,” said Johnston. “And the reason why it's very different is because I think the old camping ban enforcement was people are living on a block, and you want them not to be living there. And so, you forced them to move all their stuff and move off that block. When you are not offering those folks someplace to go in the form of housing, all they can do is take their stuff and move to the next block.”

As for how much his plan will cost, the mayor said it depends on the combination of housing units the city can acquire.

“What we're doing is building multiple budgets with multiple options, depending on what the total allocated state or federal dollars are, and what we can match with our own dollars,” said Johnston. “We'd like to do an even more aggressive amount of acquisition in the units that we might have initially hoped, and so the more units we acquire, the more budget we require depending on the price point. But we are modeling multiple scenarios with our money.”

The mayor said the city is applying for several grants this week.

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