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Denver to re-evaluate criteria for activating warming centers after pushback

Posted at 5:46 PM, Nov 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-16 20:30:29-05

DENVER — As winter weather makes it way toward the metro Thursday and Friday, there are concerns about Denver's new thresholds for activating its warming centers.

The thresholds the Department of Housing Stability (HOST) presented at a council committee meeting Wednesday were temperatures below 10 degrees or six inches or more of snow forecasted.

If met, the city would use its three dozen recreation centers as warming centers, which means designating an area to be staffed with access to water, restrooms and seating during business hours.

Denver to re-evaluate criteria for activating warming centers after pushback

Community advocates have criticized those thresholds because they are stricter than what the city has had in the past.

"There's really no medical justification given. They had no medical reason for setting the standards at that low of a level," Housekeys Action Network Denver organizer Terese Howard said.

Criticism also came from several city council members, including Candi CdeBaca, who attended Wednesday's meeting.

"How did we get to those numbers? Who informed that?" she asked.

The thresholds were crafted this past spring with input from multiple city agencies, including Denver's Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE). Its environmental quality division director, Greg Thomas, who participated in those meetings, admitted the data used to determine the thresholds was 20 years old and has no medical backing.

"We have criteria in there ... winter storm watch, six inches or more. Well, if it snows four inches, that's probably not that much better than if it's no six inches," he said. "Now that we have the concept of daytime warming or cooling centers, we are going to revisit those thresholds."

CdeBaca pushed back, telling Thomas what she had just heard was "quite inconsistent" with what HOST had presented moments prior.

The contradiction was also noticed by advocates like Howard.

"Pretty striking that we have policies in place in this city that are not based on any sort of medical standards and that are life-threateningly dangerous for the houseless community who's surviving these winters," she said.

She and some council members hope the city can go back to the drawing board and come up with criteria that makes the most sense for our most vulnerable.

"I would like to see revisions to these numbers. ASAP," CdeBaca said.

A spokesperson with the Office of Emergency Management confirms, following Wednesday's discussion, the city has agreed to re-evaluate the thresholds in the coming weeks, and Denver's warming centers will open Thursday and Friday in response to the impending storm.