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Denver city council rejects $6.4 million contract on homeless encampment outreach

Council members cited concerns over accountability and cost
denver homeless
Posted at 6:09 PM, Oct 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-03 20:21:24-04

DENVER — Citing concerns about accountability and cost, the Denver City Council rejected a three-year, $6.4 million proposed contract with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless that would have expanded outreach to people living in encampments.

The contract was part of Mayor Mike Johnston’s homeless initiative, which includes closing encampments in Denver and moving people indoors.

The council’s vote Monday night did not surprise Johnston. In fact, the mayor sent a letter to the council asking them to reject the contract.

In a statement to Denver7, the mayor’s office said the Johnston administration had been working to improve the contract after council members shared concerns.

“Based on feedback about the contract from City Council, Mayor Johnston’s Administration worked to improve the contract to increase engagement numbers and accountability to more directly aligned to the House1000 goals. However, there is more work to do to ensure the contract includes sufficient accountability measures that secure City Council’s confidence,” the statement read.

Cathy Alderman, the chief of communications and policy officer for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said they began working with the Denver Department of Housing Stability (HOST) on the contract before Johnston took office.

Alderman said after Johnston was sworn in, the new mayor’s homelessness initiative, which includes getting 1,000 people off the streets by the end of the year, changed the contract’s goals.

Denver city council rejects $6.4 million contract on homeless encampment outreach

“I think that was just a really big change that was made kind of in what a lot of folks felt like was last-minute,” said Alderman.

Councilman Darrell Watson said a majority of council members had already made up their minds before the mayor sent his letter Monday.

“To be clear, we had seven votes on council to vote this bill down prior to receiving the mayor's letter,” said Watson. “I appreciate that the administration supported our ‘no’ vote, but we were moving forward on voting ‘no’ on this contract because it was not the right contract for this crisis.”

Watson said he had many concerns about the contract, including the $6.4 million cost.

“I thought that was too high compared to what the outcomes were,” said Watson.

Councilwoman Shontel Lewis said there wasn’t enough accountability in the contract.

She said it’s something she has noticed about other city contracts.

“What I have seen in terms of the approval of these contracts is that we approve these large contracts, but we often don't have the accountability mechanisms or the metrics,” said Lewis. “I'm very, very happy that we're able to return to this conversation and really give it the appropriate time to discuss.”

Alderman said the council members raised “valid questions.”

“I frankly just don’t think we had the time to address all of the issues that came up,” said Alderman.

The mayor’s office said the rejection of the contract would not impact Johnston’s initiative to get 1,000 people off the streets this year.

“This decision will not impact Mayor Johnston’s House1000 efforts and will allow the Administration, HOST, and City Council additional time to develop a strong and fair contract that is fiscally responsible and prioritizes accountability to deliver success,” the statement from the mayor’s office said.

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