DENVER – Mayor Mike Johnston and his administration hope a new program announced Monday will be another step in revitalizing the city’s economic and cultural center, which continues to recover from dwindling foot traffic caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Calling downtown Denver the “living room of the city” where Denverites come to see a ball game, eat or enjoy hours of shopping, Johnston said he wanted every resident and guest coming to Denver for the first time to “feel safe right here in our living room and also to feel inspired by the creativity and the innovation and the ingenuity of what Denver has to offer.”
To do so, the mayor outlined a multi-step program involving not just the city or the police department, but businesses, nonprofits, residents and tourists to create a plan “built on the belief that a safe and clean and beautiful downtown is all of our responsibility,” the mayor said alongside the CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership and the head of the Denver Dream Center, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated people rebuild their lives after their release.
Part of the revitalization is already underway with the closing of several encampments downtown, Johnston said.
“Our plan now is to keep it that way, is to make sure that we can keep downtown free of camping and keep people connected to services and supports they need to get back up on their feet,” the mayor said.
Calling on Denverites to engage in a shared ownership to keep downtown Denver beautiful and safe, Johnston also encouraged Denverites and tourists alike to report any suspicious activity they might encounter with the help of the new Clean and Safe Denver app unveiled by Kourtny Garrett, the CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. The app, unveiled during Monday’s news conference, is available for both Apple and Android devices.
“That way if there is unsightly trash, you can let us know. If there's someone in mental health distress who needs support, you can let us know. If there's someone that is using or abusing drugs, you can let us know. If there is someone that needs access to support and services, you can let us know,” the mayor said. “We want Denver to be a place where everyone feels comfortable, and we can be sending the right responder to the right place at the right time” with the help of the app, he said.
Garrett told reporters Monday the app will empower people to “be a part of making our downtown just that more beautiful, more clean and more safe (sic)” by allowing users to take a photo of any non-emergent activity people feel needs responding by the city, which will then be sent to the appropriate team of responders to deal with the issue.
She told Denver7 the app and the yellow vest Ambassadors are an expansion of the safety partnership started in November 2022 under the Mayor Michael B. Hancock administration. She said the Ambassadors program is based on the Downtown Action Team, which brought together local enforcement and outreach agencies. But this new iteration is "on steroids," she said, because the partnerships are broader and more visible.
While not the Colorado Guardian Angels of the 90s, Johnston also announced the creation of the Denver Ambassadors Program – “a plan to unify the responders that come out to help people in the city and the speed at which we can respond” which will consist of nonprofits, city employees, people in private security and yes, even the Denver Police Department, according to the mayor. “The idea is that we can have the right person with the right response there quickly to be able to support people as soon as you need it.”
Wearing yellow vests (like the one the mayor is seen donning in the photo of this article), the job of the Ambassadors would mostly focus on helping people with non-emergent needs such as helping a tourist find how to get to Coors Field, or request the help of Denver’s STAR program if someone is in distress downtown.
“This is if you are going for a run at 9 o’clock at night, you can see a yellow vest and you know that is someone that is there to provide support,” Johnston said. “You know these are folks that can either directly support you or connect you to the right person.”
While the mayor couldn’t say how many Ambassadors would be patrolling downtown, the numbers would be in the hundreds due to all the personnel with whom the city is partnering to make the program possible. The program, Johnston added, would at first focus on neighborhoods downtown before looking at expanding to other areas.
People in an emergency would still need to call 911 for help or 311 if they’re need in of city services, the mayor stressed.
Johnston also briefly touched on the city’s Dynamic Downtown Denver plan, aimed at distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants.
Individuals, nonprofits, community groups and businesses are eligible to apply for the grants, which will range from $500 to $25,000, Garrett said previously. To learn more about these grants and how to apply, click here.
“If you see someone on the street with a yellow vest, you can stop and ask them (to help). They can jump in and help right away, and (then the next step is) to do ongoing activation of all these spaces because we know the opposite of crime is not safety. The opposite of crime is joy,” Johnston said in closing remarks. “And so what we want to do is really, deliberately, sow joy on all the streets with both the community activation we’ll have downtown, all the business activations where people are down here with the people they love, doing the things they love, in a place that they love.”