DENVER — On the final day of 2023, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston showcased the success of his House1000 initiative at the opening of a micro-community in northeast Denver on Sunday.
“As of today, that is 1,034 people that have come indoors when we welcome the new neighbors to this site,” said Johnston.
It's been his self-imposed deadline since taking office last summer, to get 1,000 people off the streets and into shelters.
“It is tempting to start to believe that those problems are unsolvable … but Denver refused to believe that,” said Johnston.
The opening of the site on East 38th Avenue has 54 pallet shelters. Inside each unit, there’s a small shelf, desk and bed. They are all equipped with air conditioning and heat. On the property, there are community showers, toilets, washers and dryers and a community room. Residents are required to follow a list of rules and check in at least once a day with staff.
The Mayor said a site like this would normally take 18 months to build. The city’s partners helped build the site in 88 days.
“Here in District 8, we have a set standard for action and compassion. And I hope to see every council district follow our example in the new year,” said Shontel Lewis, councilwoman for District 8.
According to the city’s Housing1000 progress dashboard, of the 1,034 people who moved indoors, 98% are still indoors.
However, there has been a major push in the last month by the administration. Sixty one percent, or 633 people in shelters have been there for under 30 days.
Housing advocate Ana Lilith Gloom has been an outspoken critic of Johnston’s plan.
“He wants to save face. He wants to save face with the voters by saying, ‘Hey got rid of these encampments.' But the thing is we still have these ugly fences all over the city,” said Gloom.
Gloom thinks the mayor should take a different approach in 2024.
“If he wants to do this, he needs to start investing in either master-leasing apartments or really quickly building some form of affordable-type housing at a much quicker, faster pace,” said Gloom.
On the final day of the year, Johnston said it was never truly about reaching a milestone.
“Most importantly, this was actually never about a number. It was about the urgency that we knew people deserve to be able to say we can't afford to wait. Because every night that someone's at risk of freezing to death on the city streets, that's not good enough for us,” said Johnston.
Instead, it was about helping families like Rayleen Moreno and her two kids.
“I can provide a better future for my kids,” said Moreno, who transitioned from a shelter to permanent housing.