DENVER (CBS4) – According to the annual Point-of-Time Survey on Jan. 27, 2020, 4,171 people in Denver identified as unhoused, and that number as increased by as much as 60% due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is one of the more complex challenges of public policy that we will ever meet," said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
Every person experiencing homelessness has a unique story, and needs services tailored to meet their challenges.
"We know that the model of housing individuals first then wrapping them with supportive services is the most effective model out there in dealing with individuals who are experiencing homelessness," Hancock told CBS4's Karen Leigh.
Leigh recently did a Zoom interview with the mayor to talk about the complex challenges presented by a growing population who is unhoused.
The city recently erected two new Safe Outdoor Spaces. Behind fences on two Denver parking lots, dozens of people are living in tents and accessing basic necessities.
"Karen, I just recently toured both of those sites, and I'll tell you I was thoroughly impressed by what I saw. How well managed and organized they are, really the efforts to make sure that people are comfortable and they have what they need to be on the sites, and they remain safe, and begin the process of connecting people with services. So I was impressed by what I saw. I think they hold a lot of promise," Hancock explained.
"So this would be a success, and one of the steps, do you see this as being part of your long term plan?" Leigh asked.
"If it continues to go well, we should continue the experiment throughout the City of Denver," Hancock replied.
Denver City Council has just approved a third Safe Outdoor Space, but the current waitlist is 100 names long, and that still leaves many living on the street.
"Let's talk about the homeless sweeps, how do you feel about them?" Leigh asked.
"We cannot allow one hazard or threat to exist while trying to abate another, and so it's very important for us to make sure that we move in to deal with the threats that we see there. They include the feces, the rodents, the needles, some of the felonious actions ... acts that we've seen and had to deal with in the encampments," Hancock replied.
While the city's main objective during the sweeps is to connect people with critical services, not many people accept the offer.
"Do you foresee any type of rehab facility, some type of building in a private/public partnership to where a housing unit where some of these homeless can also go to start that rehab and drug recover program as well?" Leigh asked.
"Later this winter, early spring, you're going to see us open a new crisis stabilization center. And that will provide really two pronged approach, one is emergency services to help them with their behavioral health challenges, and two, transitional housing, or beds to make sure that they are stabilized for a period of time," Hancock answered.
The new 46-bed crisis stabilization center is a partnership with Mental Health Center of Denver, and has been in the works for about 6 years.
In November, Denver voters approved Initiative 2B, which will provide additional dollars to help those experiencing homelessness.
"Over all between 2B and dollars we were already committed, you're going to see us invest over $80 million a year to help those who are experiencing homelessness in our city," Hancock explained.
Money for more crisis intervention, more shelter beds, and more affordable housing.
"We just invested $10 million to open up several units, over 250 units for individuals in our city," Hancock said.
"Do you think that things will get better in the years to come?" Leigh asked.
"Having a better understanding of why someone might experience homelessness is a tremendous boost in the direction of solving these challenges. We think we have an understanding of that, and we've got the right people, very smart people, in place to help address it. That's why I think we're ultimately going to be successful."
Hancock pointed out that we, as a society, have a lot of challenges to face that contribute to homelessness, such as opioid and meth addiction, a behavioral health crisis, and economic inequity issues.
The Denver Rescue Mission is among the organizations that partner with the City of Denver to move people into housing. CBS4 is working with the Rescue Mission to Spread the Warmth this winter. You can help by texting WARMTH to 24365, or make a donation of the Denver Rescue Mission website.
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