An Attainable, Results-Driven Approach to Homelessness in Denver
January 30, 2023 -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Parker Butterworth
Audit Existing Programs: Every year, the city spends hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to address the homelessness crisis, and yet homelessness in Denver is at a 14-year high. It is clear that the city’s approach is not working.
Denver’s 2023 budget for addressing the homelessness crisis is $254 million, including funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, the Homelessness Resolution Fund, and Affordable Housing Fund. This is a transformative amount of money for the city to spend on this issue, and yet, our parks, sidewalks, and public spaces look much as they have for years: filled with tents, cold people and pets, grocery carts, and waste.
As Denver’s next Mayor, Chris will demand and utilize data about which programs are helping folks break the cycle of homelessness. Chris has been a leader in deciding where to spend taxpayer dollars at the state level and he will do the same at the local level. He knows hard decisions need to be made, and he’s prepared to make tough calls about which programs deserve funding and which do not merit taxpayer funds because they are not showing results. It is time for Denver’s homelessness programs to either deliver real results or have their taxpayer funding reallocated to approaches that do.
Repurpose Funds for Proven Solutions: With a budget of $254 million to address this crisis in 2023, the city must ensure that as much of that funding as possible flows to the programs which are proven to be effective, and into crafting and enacting a longer-term strategic vision for a new approach to the crisis of homelessness going forward.
The city is failing to connect services, shelter beds, and safe outdoor spaces with the populations who need them. Despite spending a quarter of a billion dollars on the problem, the city has not managed to ameliorate the most visible or dangerous effects for either the housed or unhoused.
Have an End Goal: Too often, the city’s approach to the homelessness crisis has seemed aimless and defeatist, as if there is no way to solve the problem. That’s wrong – the solution to homelessness is housing, and cities across the country have proven that it is possible to permanently house large portions of the unhoused population and effect a lasting decrease in the rate of homelessness in a region.
Since 2011, the homeless population in the Houston, TX region has decreased by 63%. By collaborating with state and county agencies in addition to nonprofit organizations and the federal government, Houston has helped 25,000 unhoused people find permanent housing. San Antonio, TX, has also successfully moved thousands of citizens into permanent housing, and developed a 22-acre campus where the unhoused population can access more than 30 agencies and services. Both cities have made tangible improvements in the lives of thousands of unhoused people – and both cities operate under “camping bans.”
Permanent housing solutions take time – but they represent an actual, tangible solution which has shown results in other cities, rather than tripling-down on the same failed, unimaginative policies the city has pursued for years.
Use of Safe Outdoor Spaces: Chris is aware of the resistance that many unhoused folks have to shelters, and supports the city’s use of Safe Outdoor Spaces while we invest and renovate Denver’s shelters.
Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) are temporary, “healthy, secure, staffed, resource- and service-rich environments that provide an outdoor, individualized sheltering option for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Denver.”
These spaces provide water, showers, trash pickup, and access to other services the residents need, like food assistance. While these spaces cannot address the entire homelessness issue, Chris supports compassionate, creative ideas that show results, like this program does.
Work with Effective Partners: Safe Outdoor Spaces are an excellent example of the city working closely with nonprofit organizations to temporarily meet the needs of the unhoused and help folks find the resources they need.
The operation of SOS locations requires partnership between the Colorado Village Collaborative, which staffs SOS locations 24 hours a day, the St. Francis Center, organizations that provide outreach and case management, and several other entities that help with food security, daily wellness screenings, and links to hotels and health care services for SOS residents.
This collaborative model between nonprofit organizations, the faith community, and the city is the type of crisis response that can make an enormous impact on the lives of the unhoused and in our broader community. Chris fully supports the city working in partnership with nonprofit partners to address this homelessness crisis from every angle.
Focus on Housing Stability: Chris understands that many families in our communities are on the edge of homelessness, due to no fault of their own. He will work to support families and prevent evictions of vulnerable folks who are at risk of becoming homeless.
According to current figures, more than 115,000 households in Denver are currently at risk of losing their housing. We need to direct federal grant funds and a larger portion of our municipal homelessness budget towards shoring-up housing security for these families living on the edge; we cannot make progress on the problem of homelessness if we allow it to keep worsening.
Chris will support preferential permitting for affordable housing projects so they can be fast-tracked through the building process and brought onto the market as quickly as possible. Folks need affordable housing options now, and this is just one part of Chris’ plan to deliver options to Denverites who are struggling to live where they work.
Prioritize Public Safety: Chris has worked at the legislature for seven years and in that time he has seen the brutal impact encampments can have on the streets, sidewalks and parks where they are located, the people encamped, and the surrounding community. For instance, in 2021, Civic Center Park was closed in order for the city to deal with “needles, rats and trash,” as reported by the Denver Post. Both the city’s Parks Department and the Public Health Department contributed to the decision to close the park because of the extreme public health risks that the encampments posed to their residents and to the broader public.
Folks living in encampments are in inherently dangerous situations and Chris wants to quickly and efficiently help the unhoused access the services they need including stable housing, and wrap around services such as mental health and substance use treatment.
The public health risks to encamped folks and to the community are too severe to allow in our public spaces and Chris will use every tool available to address the public health issues caused by encampments, both for the people encamped and for the community.
Keep the Camps Clear: In 2019, 81% of Denver voters voted against allowing unsanctioned camping in the city. Since then, the current administration has pursued an endless policy of sweeping homeless camps without ever seeing a decline in the overall rate of unsanctioned camping or a decrease in the number of campsites across the city. Chris understands that our parks and sidewalks deserve to be safe and clean for everyone, and that means having a policy which goes beyond the sweeps.
Sidewalks are not made for sleeping, and neither are public parks. Our city needs to serve everyone, and that means ensuring that our sidewalks, public parks, and other shared spaces are free from hazards or obstructions.
Current city policy has focused on sweeping the unhoused population away from certain areas. Instead, we need to be directing the unhoused population towards certain areas, whether that means an expanded array of Safe Outdoor Spaces, or a new campus – where camping would be permitted – like the one the city of San Antonio has developed to centralize homelessness services.
9. Renew Public Trust: Years of pursuing failed policies can jeopardize the public’s ability to believe that solutions are possible. By auditing our current programs, reorienting them towards an end goal, and revitalizing our overall approach to homelessness, Chris knows that we can revive the public’s trust in city government’s ability to meet their needs.