DENVER – Calling the homeless crisis something “we can’t solve on our own,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock outlined his strategy to fight homelessness Wednesday at a newly opened 24/7 shelter in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood.
“Without question, the pandemic has significantly worsened the situation in Denver and in cities across the country,” Hancock said inside the 48th Street Shelter before he outlined the city’s strategy to combat the homeless crisis – one of his three priorities to help Denver recover after a year of living under the shadow of COVID-19
Hancock said that during the pandemic, the city of Denver proved that 24-hour shelters work, but added the city needed stronger, meaningful involvement from federal, state and regional partners to help those experiencing homelessness find permanent housing.
Among the strategies outlined Wednesday, Hancock said the city will plan to acquire motels and hotels to help the unhoused exit homelessness and find permanent housing, something he said would help people find housing much quicker than the traditional housing approach the city currently employs.
Secondly, Hancock said the city would be expanding “innovative solutions” such as safe outdoor spaces that would provide basic amenities, sanitation, rehousing support and other services.
The mayor also said the city would be leveraging existing partnerships with key organizations like the Denver Housing Authority to more quickly connect the unhoused with available apartments through a search and voucher system.
The city will also be expanding supportive programs such as rental and utility assistance and eviction protection services and will also grow the pipeline of new housing developments and the preservation of existing homes to help people across all income levels.
“House keys have more power to change a life than a tent,” Hancock said, as he reiterated his support for the city’s camping ban, adding the city would soon be deploying a civilian enforcement team to “end unsanctioned encampments” and to connect the unhoused with services.
“I want to be very clear: Unsanctioned encampments are not an option.”
Our partners at The Denver Post report that over the last six months, city crews have cleared out more homeless camps than they did in all of 2020.
Hancock defended the city’s actions, saying the city isn’t doing anything different when it comes to homeless sweeps – even as advocates worry sweeps have increased ahead of the All-Star Game at Coors Field – and argued that the city wasn’t enforcing the law during the height of the pandemic, which isn’t the case now.
Britta Fisher, the city’s executive director for the Department of Housing Stability, said Denver’s current network of shelters serves nearly more than 2,200 people each night, a more than 54% increase from last March to March 2021.
Stats from the first year of the pandemic:— Liz Gelardi (@LizGelardi) June 30, 2021
-More than 12,000 served with shelter services
-More than 8,000 served at day shelters
-More than 3,000 served at emergency shelters (hotels and motels)
Fisher said the city served thousands of people at shelters across the city and connected thousands of households with rent and utility help.
“Despite all of these efforts… we are in midst of a housing crisis that has been exacerbated by a pandemic,” Fisher said. “We are seeing more people experiencing homeless than ever because more people are experiencing a crisis that results in losing their home.”
Fisher, however, admitted that shelters are not a permanent solution and said the city needs more affordable housing and community support to end the homeless crisis in Denver.