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Denver reached goal of getting 1,000 people indoors. What's next?

Mayor Johnston pledges to house 1,000 more people in 2024
denver homeless
Posted at 5:28 PM, Jan 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-04 17:59:30-05

DENVER — The city was able to meet Mayor Mike Johnston's plan of getting 1,000 people off the streets last year, but the homelessness crisis is in no way over.

Johnston says the city will continue working this year to bring more people indoors.

Just a few weeks ago, 48th and Colorado was home to dozens of people living in an encampment.

However, the city closed the encampment and moved over 100 people who lived there indoors.

The site is located in Denver City Councilwoman Shontel Lewis’s district.

“We consistently came out and had conversations with folks to ensure that they were remaining hopeful about their future and that we would indeed get them housed,” Lewis said.

Lewis, who took office along with Johnston six months ago, was among the biggest supporters of the mayor’s homelessness initiative.

“I really appreciate someone with a bold vision who’s willing to have the audacity to do something that hasn't been done,” said Lewis.

Johnston says the city was able to move over 1,100 people indoors.

According to the city’s dashboard, 98% of them remain indoors and 23% have moved into permanent housing.

Cathy Alderman with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless says the mayor and his team should be commended for their work.

“The mayor's office and the City of Denver should be really proud of reaching that 1,000-person indoor goal,” said Alderman. “It was ambitious and a lot of people worked tirelessly to make sure that people were safely inside.”

Despite the success, Alderman says homelessness remains a big issue.

Denver reached goal of getting 1,000 people indoors. What's next?

"We can't forget about the fact that all of these individuals are in temporary spaces right now and will need access to long-term housing options," said Alderman.

She said the migrant crisis will make things more challenging in the year ahead.

“All of the newcomers to Denver that have come from other countries is really complicating homelessness resolution,” Alderman said. “Denver is a very welcoming city, and we want to make sure that everyone is safe and has a safe place to sleep at night. We are just completely under-resourced. We're under-resourced for homelessness resolution and we're under-resourced for responding to the migrant crisis.”

Johnston told council members in a meeting on Tuesday that there is no new emergency homelessness declaration coming. The one the city was under for the past six months has now expired.

But he still wants to move another 1,000 people off the streets in 2024.

With most of the large encampments gone, he told the city council that the city’s focus will shift.

“It is more of the small pockets of people we can keep targeting and bringing in regularly. And so that is, that is a priority,” Johnston said.

The city will soon open two new micro-communities.

As people move into permanent housing, space should open up at motels the city has acquired as part of the mayor’s initiative.

Johnston also wants to create and preserve up to 3,000 affordable housing units this year, which would help keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.

“And that's not just for people that are formerly unhoused. That's for nurses and teachers and firefighters and people working two jobs that are struggling to make it in this city,” Johnston told Denver7.

Lewis said she would like to see micro-communities in every council district this year.

She also wants the city to think about long-term housing differently.

Lewis says Denver needs social housing.

Social housing models differ from city to city.

But Lewis said the idea involves the city owning and leasing housing units at a much more affordable price than private landlords.

“No one would be paying no more than say 25% or 35% of their income so that we're not burdening folks with that housing expense,” Lewis said, adding that it would allow people to live in linguistically, culturally, racially, and socioeconomically diverse communities.

Lewis says her colleagues on the council were able to get funding in the budget to study the idea further.

One thing many people want to know is whether people who’ve moved into transitional housing are taking advantage of the resources the city is offering. The mayor says his administration will update the council on that soon.

Later this month, volunteers will go around the metro area counting the number of people experiencing homelessness as part of the annual point-in-time count.

Experts say the count isn’t perfect and likely undercounts people experiencing homelessness.

But they say it provides leaders with a better understanding of the homelessness situation in their communities.

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