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Denver mayor's state of emergency on homelessness gets extended while new data comes out

Denver City Council extends mayor's state of emergency on homelessness
Denver City Council extends mayor's state of emergency on homelessness 03:37

Denver's City Council approved another month of Denver Mayor Mike Johnston's local disaster emergency on homelessness Monday. 

The council voted nearly unanimously to extend the declaration to Aug. 21 with only Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer voting against it.

"I don't think it's responsible government to blanket approve something when we've got real questions," said Sawyer, who asked for a one-week delay in considering the extension. That too was voted down 11-1.

RELATED: Denver's new mayor declares state of emergency on homelessness

"Pausing it now, doesn't give us more leverage. It doesn't change any of the dynamics and it doesn't make any of the information come any faster," said new Councilmember Darrell Watson, who took over the District 9 seat last occupied by Candi CdeBaca. 

"Within those four weeks we are not ceding any authority, legislative authority to hold the mayor's office accountable for the steps that we still need," Watson continued.

Outside the City and County Building, people experiencing homelessness lined up for food and help.

"Right now I'm up off of 10th and Federal at the Denver (Behavior Health Solutions Center)," said Mike Warner.

On Sunday, his 45 days of treatment there will end. He has been getting mental health and addiction help.

"My thing was meth," he explained. After Sunday right now he has nowhere to go. "Somewhere where it's safe," he hoped. Warner is waiting for an appointment with a caseworker to help figure out where he'll go. He says he's much healthier and has put on 40 pounds. He has learned to ask for help and has been getting good help at the behavioral health center. "They've got me right where I need to be. Stable."

Warner is an example of Denver's growing population of people who experiencing homelessness. The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative found sharp increases in the overall population in its "point in time" count done on a single night in January. The homeless population has grown 31% over the year before. The number of those experiencing homelessness for the first time rose by 51%. The greatest percentage increases were among families, increasing 64%.

"I think it wasn't as shocking as people might think," said Jamie Rife, executive director of the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. "Many COVID protections are running out."

During the pandemic relief programs bloomed. But those programs that expanded are now contracting as the federal money to run them has run out. But there's more to the causes this year.

"The pandemic relief protections end as well as historic inflation. We've seen rental prices increase. We've seen a lot of households struggling and that's really coming out this year," said Rife.

As bad as it has been, it could have been worse.

"Things would have been much, much worse if we hadn't spent time preventing homelessness for thousands of households before it started," Rife said. The study found 9,065 people experiencing homelessness that night. 2,763 were unsheltered.

RELATED: Metro Denver point-in-time 2023 study

Rife believes advances are starting to be made to add housing. But Denver has not gotten to the source.

"What we have to really focus on is shutting off the inflow into homelessness," said Rife who believes the local disaster emergency is appropriate to free potential state and federal dollars and make permitting for solutions easier.

"This is an ongoing emergency and until we can get to a point where we can see significant decreases," Rife said. "This is an emergency."

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