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Denver's new mayor will have options to tackle homelessness

Mayor-elect Mike Johnston pledges to end homelessness by end of his first term
mike johnston
Posted at 4:24 PM, Jun 20, 2023

DENVER — Tackling homelessness will be one of the biggest challenges Denver mayor-elect Mike Johnston will face when he takes office next month.

According to a recent Point-In-Time survey, more than 1,300 people sleep on the streets of Denver each night.

Johnston will have several options to help him meet his ambitious plan to “end homelessness” by the end of this first term.

Johnston’s plan centers on building micro-communities of tiny homes.

"You take half-acre lots around the city that the city owns, and you put 40 or 50 tiny homes on that site,” Johnston said. “These tiny homes have heating; they have air conditioning; they’ve got a lock and a key. You got a bed and a desk. You have access to showers and kitchen and all the things you need to get people back up on their feet."

Johnston estimates it will cost $25,000 to build each tiny home.

He plans to use federal stimulus funding to pay for 1,400 housing units.

It’s unclear exactly where Johnston’s tiny homes will go.

Colorado Village Collaborative operates tiny home villages in Denver's Elyria & Swansea neighborhoods.

Jordan Fuja, a spokesperson for Johnston’s mayoral transition team, told Denver7 on Tuesday that the mayor-elect has started researching locations.

Tiny homes are just one option Johnston will have.

This month, the Denver City Council approved an ordinance making safe outdoor spaces and safe parking areas permanent.

Denver's new mayor will have options to tackle homelessness

“I think that’s an important step to give us the flexibility to make sure we can serve people who are unhoused around the city,” Johnston said.

Cuica Montoya runs Colorado Village Collaborative's safe outdoor space program.

Montoya said the new ordinance doesn't mean an outdoor site will stay in one spot for years on end.

“It helps establish that we can exist beyond the end of this year. But it still limits how long one of these programs can stay in the neighborhood,” said Montoya.

Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer was the only member of the council to vote against the ordinance.

"This is not housing. Housing involves a roof and a door, and we are investing heavily in things that are temporary solutions…$10,000 tents on pallets in parking lots. This is not good enough,” said Sawyer. “We should be doing things differently. We should be taking those ARPA funds, and we should be investing them in long-term solutions.”

Fuja said Johnston plans to use an “all of the above” approach when it comes to tackling homelessness but said tiny homes and hotel conversions remain his biggest tools.

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