DENVER — Since incoming Mayor Mike Johnston declared a state of emergency on homelessness last year and pushed to significantly reduce the homeless population, unprecedented number most of the people living on the streets were dying.
At least 311 homeless people Last year, more people died in Denver than every year, according to city officials and organizations that serve the homeless. Most died of drug overdoses, but infectious disease, environmental exposure, and blunt force trauma also contributed. Last year, 263 people He died, according to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which conducts an annual survey.
Johnston tackles a problem that is plaguing communities across the country. Like Johnston, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass ran campaign significantly reduced the number of people living on the streets, and he declared a state of emergency on his first day in office. But his Safe Inside The plan met with mixed results, as approximately 46,000 people slept in tent camps each night.
Homeless advocates say Johnston plans to house 1,000 homeless residents and 1,000 more in his first few months in office. By the end of this year, the region could go a long way toward reducing deaths from the surge in fentanyl and other deadly street drugs.
The mayor’s plan provides substance abuse and mental health counseling and treatment, as well as job training and other services to help them find stability.
Johnston, a Democrat, has found transitional housing so far For 1,135 homeless residents during his nearly six months in office. But debate over whether it can do the job permanently continues as housing prices rise and affordable housing stocks dwindle. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Denver is $1,656 per month apartments.com21% reduction from 2023 to 2024.
Michael Macomber, who until two weeks ago was sleeping under a tent in downtown Denver, is benefiting from Johnston’s plan and is now living in a hotel the city has acquired and converted into residences.
“They give us three meals a day and cable TV. The mayor is doing the right thing,” said Macomber, 49, who added that he became homeless two decades ago after becoming addicted to opioids after a car accident.
On January 30, 2023, 1,423 people were on the streets annually in Denver. time calculationwatching homeless residents overnight.
Some advocacy groups estimate the homeless population to be closer to 8,000 if people living with family or friends or in shelters and group homes are included, and Johnston said his office aims to house at least 2,000 by the end of the year.
Neither figure includes the estimated 36,000 migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and walked to Denver on their own or were bused in by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. his state was overwhelmed by them.
Denver is among the dozen self-proclaimed holy cities and US states whose laws may protect migrants from deportation or persecution.
The city’s migrant population is among the largest in the country, Johnston previously spoke to NBC News. Denver spent $32 million to house, feed and service them last year and is projected to spend $180 million. This year, the mayor said that million.
Johnston said his priority is to find permanent homes for the non-migrant homeless that his plan will place in transitional housing. He spent 46 million of the city’s 1.6 billion dollar budget last year converting hotel rooms and building three small houses.
This year, the state will allocate 119 million dollars for the homeless, and another 24 million dollars.
Johnston said the city won’t set deadlines for residents to leave their subsidized transitional housing, but he hopes they can secure jobs and permanent housing that will pay for themselves within three to six months.
“We never force them to take to the streets. There is no formal requirement to stay,” said Johnston. “But our goal is to quickly stabilize and connect them with services and prepare them to apply for jobs if they need mental health or addiction support or workforce training.”
He said the city has 500 vouchers to help pay the rent for the first few months for residents who move into permanent housing, but then live on their own. Those who do not receive a voucher will still receive assistance from the city to find affordable housing.
Andy McNulty, a Colorado civil rights attorney who provides free legal services to homeless advocates in Denver, said Johnston’s approach is deeply flawed.
“There is no path to permanent residency,” McNulty said. “Denver is very expensive and there is not enough affordable housing to walk around. You can’t just put people in hotel rooms and wait for the problem to be solved.”
Terese Howard, a member of the House Keys Action Network, a Denver-based advocacy group, said the plan would not be effective without a major investment in public housing.
“That’s the direction we need to go,” he said.
But Kathy Alderman, public policy officer for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said Johnston’s plan could save lives.
“The most important part of this is what comes after that, and we’re moving these people out of temporary places and into long-term housing because that’s the only way to really solve homelessness,” he said.
Cheris Kline Berlinberg, 36, who lives two blocks from a converted hotel, said Johnston’s plan was rushed and ignored neighbors’ concerns about declining property values and fears of increased crime.
“It was too, too fast. He made sacrifices and experimented with the community. It’s being shoved down our throats,” Berlinberg said. “Something needs to be done to help the homeless, but the mayor has a responsibility to those who already live in the community.”