My first question is whether those who are arriving into Denver homeless from prison will be able to access this housing? What if someone has a felony record? In an effort to build on the issue of "public safety" wouldn't it be more practical to help those who have been in trouble before?
Armed with data showing there's a hidden cost to leaving the unemployed, mentally ill and alcoholics alone on the streets, Denver officials are pushing forward with a $20 million plan to build 200 new housing units for the homeless.
The plan is in keeping with Mayor John Hickenlooper's homelessness initiative, which holds that the past patchwork system of shelters wasn't the best way to tackle the issue.
The proposal is still being finalized and then, depending on financial terms, could go before the City Council this spring. The council has emphasized the need to spread the housing instead of clustering it in strongholds of poverty. While support seems strong among most council members, some reservations persist over that issue, which could raise the ire of some neighborhood activists.
"I can't emphasize enough the importance of this project moving away from the traditional islands of poverty that just warehouse folks," Councilman Paul Lopez said during a recent council committee meeting on the subject.
The administration, sensitive to those concerns, is pledging to make sure the housing is spread around the city, in areas close to mass transit. They are also promising to include on-site managers.
"We would really do our due diligence and make sure these facilities are not in the same old spots," said Roxane White, director of Denver's Department of Human Services.
In the past, the emphasis was on getting a homeless person an emergency meal and bed for the night. Now, the Hickenlooper administration is stressing the need to get behind the root problems that cause homelessness in the first place.
And the best way to do that, officials say, is to provide actual, long-term housing first.
The homeless placed in the new units can stay for months, where they will be encouraged to take advantage of intensive support services, such as drug- addiction counseling, job training and medication for mental illnesses.
The Denver Post