City Council re-approves homelessness emergency despite growing divisions

Denver’s state of emergency on homelessness will last until Dec. 31 after the City Council voted 10-13 on Monday to approve the resolution for a fifth time. Cole Chandler, Mayor Mike Johnston’s senior advisor on resolving homelessness, said he expects this vote to be the final extension of the resolution.

While the declaration passed, the vote showed how council’s support for Johnston’s approach to homelessness has divided in recent months. While Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer was the lone vote-getter in July, she was joined by Councilmembers Flor Alverez and Stacey Gilmore in October and again on Monday.

Councilmember Shontell Lewis represents District 8, which hosts a large portion of the shelter units that are going online as part of Johnston’s goal of getting 1,000 people off the streets by the end of 2023.

“Was the process perfect? ​​No, absolutely,” she said. “There were a lot of mistakes. I remain committed to making sure people are housed. So what is the alternative to sheltering people? What are we supposed to do if we stop these plans? That we asked people who are actually at risk of losing their limbs or their lives to stay out while we think about it and while we sit comfortably in our homes? This is completely unacceptable.”

Hinds compared Monday’s concerns about shelters to opposition to safe camp sites in Denver a few years ago. The sites, the first of which opened in Hinds 10 in 2020, initially faced fierce opposition. But after a trial period, the safe campsites have won the support of many neighbors and former Mayor Michael Hancock. Earlier this year, the City Council voted to make the program permanent.

“Once they got going, people said, ‘Oh, that’s what we were worried about?’ No, we want this,” Hinds said. “That’s why I’ve been a consistent supporter of temporary managed communities.”

But City Council support for the mayor’s plan has slowly waned over the past few months.

Gilmore and Alvidres expressed frustration with the way the mayor’s office operated and reached out to their offices about efforts to solve the city’s homeless problem.

“I feel like I played fully,” Alvidrez said. “I feel incredibly misled when it comes to this emergency order.”

Gilmore cautioned that shelter sites are centralized in low-income communities of color, while wealthier communities can better mobilize opposition. She said the response to homelessness “lacks transparency.”

“It seems like when you look at the facts, the city got this on the backs of black and brown people,” Gilmore said of some of the shelter sites.

During the previous vote on the homelessness resolution in October, a number of other council members told the Johnston administration in October that their future support was not guaranteed. Their concerns ranged from specific questions such as working with local landlords to broader concerns about the administration’s long-term vision.

Support for pallet shelter and tiny home sites has begun to split among residents as well, with the mayor’s office backing away from plans at three sites across the city. During Monday’s City Council meeting, a number of residents spoke out against bringing the sites to their neighborhoods and asked the City Council to vote “no” on the emergency declaration.

Sawyer said public comments of opposition from many sites prompted her to vote “no” on the resolution on Monday.

The mayor’s office said they expect the emergency declaration to last until the end of 2023, but things could still change.

In an interview with Axios earlier this month, Johnston acknowledged that his administration made a “mistake” in the way it defined success toward a goal of housing 1,000 people by the end of 2023. He acknowledged that the administration may not be able to meet that goal. Delivery time. To be successful, the city must accommodate about 750 people before the end of the year.

“We are committed to continuing to work on solutions. Ultimately, we are committed to continuing to provide a better Denver for both our unhoused and our residents. So, thank you for the ways you have supported this progress thus far,” Chandler said during Monday’s council meeting. “We never know what could happen. “Things can change, but our expectation is not that we will ask for another extension at this point.”

Councilwoman Sarah Paradis emphasized that Denver’s housing and homelessness crises will continue after December 31, regardless of the outcome of the emergency order.

“Even if we were no longer in a declared state of emergency on January 1, that would not allow us to simply move forward at the end of the year,” she added. “I very much hope we will be there in the near future. But I look at the city’s eviction numbers, I look at the cost of rent, and we’re not there at the end of this work.”

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