Mayor Mike Johnston updates Denver’s State of Emergency on Homelessness

Johnston said he is working to make sure the shelters the city is setting up will be all across the Denver metro area and is working with council members to address the needs in each district.

He also said they are addressing specific needs.

“Making sure they have access to utilities, that they meet basic zoning and permitting criteria, that they have proximity to transit, they have proximity to food surfaces and some reasonable distance from schools,” said Johnston.

Johnston said that one solution is to use the old Stay Inn at 38th and Peoria will have nearly 100 units as part of the goal to get 1,000 people off the streets by the end of the year. Federal funding is being used to help secure the funding for that location.

He also said the city is working with private landowners as well as nonprofits and faith-based organizations to find solutions.

Johnston said people are already taking advantage of the help that’s being offered, “One person got connected to housing this week that has never had housing in his adult life. We had a pregnant woman who moved out to a hotel where she will have the support she will need.”

Only a few hours after his term as the Mile High City’s new mayor began, Johnston declared the state of emergency and said homelessness was his No. 1 priority.

He is currently focused on changing how the city’s sweeps of illegal homeless encampments are done. He had initially said the camps could stay unless there were housing options. He later added that he would only sweep camps without an immediate housing option if they blocked a public right of way, were a public threat, or were around private property. That was the case when Johnston ordered his first sweep two weeks ago at 22nd and Stout Street. He said that the encampment was a public health concern.

Johnston’s goal is to find housing for more than 1,000 people in the city experiencing homelessness.

The mayor has created a 10-person team to address the crisis. He has also conducted several town halls with the plan to visit all of Denver’s 78 neighborhoods to discuss solutions outside of encampment sweeps.

“Our real focus is on a long-term path to housing and I would say there is even downsides to moving encampments when you have people that we are having conversations with that we are identifying places they might want to go,” Johnston said.