Real plans for a vibrant, affordable, safe Denver: Ending Homelessness
We live in a prosperous, beautiful city in the richest country in the world. Take a stroll downtown, however, and you’ll see streets lined with tents and scattered belongings. More than 1,300 people are sleeping on the streets of Denver on any given night.1 We cannot accept this as the status quo: Not only do we have a moral obligation to make sure everyone has a place to sleep, we must also ensure all Denver residents can enjoy our public spaces, businesses, and sidewalks.
To effectively solve the problem, we must address three overlapping crises: the lack of affordable housing, the absence of available mental health support, and an explosion in the severity of addictive drugs. If we attack these crises in a coordinated way, we can end homelessness in my first term. It’s an ambitious goal, but it can be accomplished—decades of research shows that thereare data-driven solutions that work.
Here is my plan. As with every part of my policy platform, we know it works and we know how to pay for it.
1. Build 20 micro communities to end unsheltered homelessness in my first term. In my first four years as Mayor, I pledge to build 1,400 additional units of housing for unsheltered individuals, ending homelessness in Denver by the end of my first term.
- We’ll accomplish this by establishing 10-20 micro communities across Denver that can provide 1,400 units of safe, stable, dignified housing. These communities will be made up of small groups of 40-60 tiny homes and converted hotels.2 We will locate these communities throughout the City by deploying city-owned land and partnering with churches and community-based organizations.
- Move neighborhoods, not individuals. People who are unsheltered rely on the people in their encampment for a sense of community and support. For that reason, when a new community for permanent supportive housing is opened, we will offer to move our unhoused neighbors together to preserve their existing networks. We will also offer multiple housing options that cater to certain communities, such as pet-friendly, women-only, or family-friendly sites.
- We know it works. We have already proved that permanent supportive housing works. In partnership with my former organization, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless provided permanent supportive housing to 300 unsheltered individuals; 86% of participants remained in stable housing a year later, and 77% remained in stable housing after 3 years.3 Participants were also 40% less likely to be subsequently arrested, 40% less likely to end up in jail, and 65% less likely to require emergency substance abuse treatment. They were 40% less likely to show up in an emergency room, yet twice as likely to utilize preventative health care.4
- We know how to pay for it. Denver is eligible to receive up to $138 million in one-time federal stimulus funding for permanent supportive housing, among other things.5 At a cost of $25,000 per unit,6 we can build all 1,400homes with this money—without impacting the Denver budget at all.
2. Provide centralized wrap-around services in every micro community. While the provision of stable housing is critical to solving homelessness, we must also address the underlying causes. That is why each new community for the formerly unhoused will connect residents with mental health treatment, addiction treatment, and workforce training.
- Each community will be serviced by a care team that will provide on-site mental health support. Each community will also be staffed with trained benefit navigators who connect residents with services to match their needs, including giving every resident an opportunity for meaningful work and an opportunity to get their lives back on track.
- Channel Denver’s desire to lend a hand. We will ensure that each micro community is partnered with existing community resources, including local churches, civic groups, and neighborhood associations. Denverites will be able to bring food, warm clothes, or resources to the neighborhood closest to them.
- We know it works. In other cities, offering comprehensive wrap-around services has resulted in reductions to homelessness of up to 80%.7 The research consistently shows that community treatment results in a higher level of housing stability—not to mention a reduction in the strain on other city services.8
- We know how to pay for it. Funding for wrap-around services will come from the City’s existing Homelessness Resolution Fund9 and the money Denver projects to receive from Proposition 123.10 We will also use the $50 million in federal funds that Denver recently received to construct a regional navigation campus that provides wraparound services to address homelessness.11
3. A Mayor who owns the problem and gets direct feedback from residents. Denver needs a Mayor who will make solving homelessness a top priority and align every department of city government to ensure results. As Mayor, my office will be front and center of the fight against homelessness—and transparent in its communications with Denver residents.
- Senior Advisor to centralize efforts. I will appoint a Senior Homelessness Advisor tasked with overseeing the City’s efforts to combat homelessness. In addition to leading a weekly meeting that I will personally attend, this person will coordinate efforts across various city agencies to ensure that when encampments are closed, individuals have the opportunity to relocate directly into housing created by my administration.
- One number, one person for accountability on homelessness. Denver residents are frustrated that there is no direct point of contact within the City to address their concerns about encampments. My Senior Advisor on Homelessness and I will communicate directly with neighborhoods on all issues regarding homelessness, an approach that has worked recently in other cities.12
4. Pair enforcement with the provision of services. Some portion of the homeless population will choose not to take advantage of the housing and services my administration will provide. The camping ban will continue to be enforced against these individuals, who will be routed to safe outdoor spaces and channeled to treatment options for mental health and addiction where appropriate.
- While we will enforce the law against those who are a danger to themselves or others, we will expand diversionary programs to help divert those struggling with mental health or addiction into treatment. This means stopping the revolving door of people who are arrested and released without any treatment.
5. Stop eviction and displacement. Beyond addressing those currently unhoused, I’ll invest in prevention to reduce the number of Denverites who become homeless in the first place.
- Invest in eviction defense. I will sustain and make permanent critical funding streams to help tenants on the verge of eviction negotiate favorable settlements with their landlords and stay in their homes, avoiding the unnecessary and disruptive costs to tenants, landlords, and our community that an eviction triggers. At Gary Community Ventures, we seeded initiatives that helped Denver families stay in their homes during the pandemic.13 As Mayor, I’ll scale that approach to ensure it becomes a core part of how we fight homelessness.
- I’ll also invest in rapid-rehousing and transitional housing programs to keep families out of homelessness. Any family on the verge of homelessness should have access to a viable option that works to keep them and their family housed.
|1,400 additional units of permanent supportive housing.||$35 million, at a cost of$25,000 per unit.||Denver’s portion of the$138 million in one-time federal stimulus funding made available for permanent supportive housing, among other things.|
|Wrap-around services in each micro community.||$20 million, or approximately $1 million for support staff in each micro community.||We will use a third of Denver’s Homelessness Resolution Fund, which provides $30 million per year. We will also use projects to receive from Proposition 123—approximately $10 million.|
1 This number is taken from the 2022 Point-In-Time count conducted by Metro Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI), located here. The total unhoused population is likely higher.
2 See https://www.coloradovillagecollaborative.org/beloved-community-village; https://www.denvergov.org/Government/Agencies-Departments-Offices/Agencies-Departments- Offices-Directory/Department-of-Housing-Stability/News/Denver-Funds-Hotel-Purchase-for-Shel ter-and-Future-Supportive-Housing.
3 See https://www.urban.org/research/publication/breaking-homelessness-jail-cycle-housing-first-results- denver-supportive-housing-social-impact-bond-initiative.
4 See https://americaforward.medium.com/critical-takeaways-from-the-success-of-the-denver-supportive- housing-pay-for-success-initiative-286c5104265c.
5 More information on the recently enacted HB 1377, which includes funding for “permanent supportive housing with supportive services,” is available here and here.
6 Colorado Village Collaborative estimates that tiny homes can be constructed for $15,000 in material costs. See https://www.coloradovillagecollaborative.org/about-us. Total estimate assumes labor cost at 40% of the total project’s budget, as estimated by the Construction Labor Market Analyzer (CLMA).
7 See https://sanantonioreport.org/san-antonio-to-reevaluate-how-it-fights-homelessness/.
8 See https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/theevidence_1.pdf.
9 See the Denver Budget, linked here. The Homelessness Resolution Fund, established by 2020 Ballot Measure 2B, is discussed on page 521 of the 2023 Denver Budget. The Fund will dedicate $30.4 million in 2023 to support “shelter and services.”
10 Based on its share of the Colorado population, Denver projects to receive $36–$45 million annually because of Proposition 123. Of the 40% administered by the Division of Housing, nearly half is dedicated to homelessness—approximately $10 million.
11 See https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/2022a_1378_signed.pdf. This money was allocated as part of HB 1378, discussed furtherhere.
12 See https://www.usich.gov/news/what-other-cities-can-learn-from-bostons-public-health-approach-to- homelessness/.13See https://garycommunity.org/case-studies/covid-19-eviction-defense-fund/