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Homeless organization report says City of Denver needs more cold weather shelter spaces

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Posted at 4:34 PM, May 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-09 07:41:47-04

DENVER — A new report from Housekeys Action Network Denver, an organization that helps the unhoused community, said there are not enough shelter beds in cold weather in the City of Denver.

Housekeys Action Network Denver, or HAND, surveyed 46 unhoused people between January and February 2024.

Those surveyed were asked 23 different questions and were compensated with a free bus ticket, according to HAND representatives.

The survey found that during cold weather events, 76-79% of those surveyed tried accessing a cold weather shelter during day and nighttime.

It also found 66% of those surveyed were ultimately turned away from a cold weather shelter because the shelter was full.

"It shows a significant demand for cold weather shelter," said Terese Howard, a HAND advocate, of the report.

HAND presented its results to the City of Denver's Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee Wednesday morning.

During the meeting HAND advocates and representatives laid out the information to city councilmembers who were present.

Councilmembers asked questions regarding demographics and who HAND advocates encountered during their surveying.

"I was wondering, did you collect demographic information?" asked Council Member Diana Romero Campbell, "Did you also encounter young people or families with children?"

Ana-lilth Miller is one of the many Denver residents who was previously unhoused. She now works closely with HAND but told Denver7 nothing can make her forget the cold nights she spent outside because of shelter capacity.

"You're already cold, you're tired, and then they tell you 'Oh, well, we're sorry. There's nowhere for you to sleep in here tonight'," Miller said. "I'm a human being. We're all humans and like it's four degrees outside and all I need is somewhere to sleep."

Miller told Denver7 during cold weather events, when she was turned away from shelter spaces because they were full, she'd look for any indoor, warm spot she could sleep in.

"I've slept in alleyways. I have slept in elevators, I have slept in all kinds of different places due to being turned away," Miller said. "I mean, just like literally anywhere I could find because shelters were at capacity."

Along with detailing issues HAND advocates said were present in cold weather shelters, they also outlined potential solutions for Denver.

The top proposed shelter system improvements included the following:

1. Increased accessibility by expanding hours, capacity, locations and transportation.
2. Improving staff treatment toward shelter residents.
3. Offering more supportive services, including case management and community service opportunities.
4. Getting rid of curfew
5. Improving hygiene, including more and better bathrooms and treatment for bed bugs.
6. Improving communication with the unhoused regarding shelter resources.

Denver7 reached out to the City of Denver's Department of Housing and Stability regarding the report and HAND's claim there aren't enough shelter beds during cold weather shelter.

A spokesperson provided the following statement:

The Department of Housing Stability continually monitors shelter capacity and occupancy to ensure that we meet the sheltering needs of our community. During severe weather, we open temporary shelter facilities and work with partners to add capacity to existing facilities temporarily when needed. Our focus is always centered on having facilities and systems in place to provide shelter for everyone who chooses to come indoors. Together with our shelter services partners, we are committed to continuously meeting the needs of our community.

As for Miller, she says she's wants city leaders to look at the report and allocate more shelter resources during the cold winter months.

"We really need a better more comprehensive, cold weather sheltering system for this next winter because we've got five months to go five months of summer and then we have to be ready to shelter people when it gets cold out," she said.

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