“People aren’t going to stay”: A critical look at Denver Mayor Johnston’s efforts to provide the unhoused with shelter

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston says the city successfully moved more than 1,000 people off the streets and into shelters in 2023 – roughly 1,032 as of January 1, 2024. If true, this means he reached his goal through the House1000 Initiative, which included his self-imposed deadline to get 1,000 people off the streets and into housing. Apparently, 98% of these folks are still indoors, largely in hotels and micro-communities purchased by the city. But, the average length of stay for these folks in these spaces is under 30 days. I spoke with Ana Lilith Miller, who works with Housekeys Action Network Denver (HAND), a nonprofit that provides aid to the unhoused particularly around shelter and housing.

Listen here:

Miller is very critical of Mayor Johnston’s approach to the houselessness crisis.

“I just feel like everything he’s tried to push for this year has basically failed, and come the end of the cold season, things are going to start going a lot differently,” Miller says. “Especially come when it starts getting warmer and people are more willing to go back to staying outside because they don’t want to be treated like they are living in a halfway house, and they’d rather have their freedoms because it’s not like they’re getting housing.”

She says that these are Band-Aid solutions and that this is a failure on the part of Mayor Johnston. She thinks the mayor needs to seriously revise his approach this year, 2024.

First and foremost, expand some services that are needed at these hotels,” urges Miller. “They need to expand access to transportation. They need to implement much better safety measures. And again, I’m not talking, hiring a private security firm to do quote unquote security. I am talking actual trained people. De-escalation, trauma, and harm reduction measures, instead of this outright ban on all substances and alcohol, cause it’s pointless. It’s an arbitrary thing to do because you’re not gonna stop people from doing what they need to do, and it’s a need for some people.”

Miller asks that listeners reach out to their local government officials.

“Please. Reach out to City Council, and ask them to please, please pass this No Freezing Sweeps bill. It would really be something that can help save lives and limbs by ending sweeps and freezing temperatures. We’re very close to hopefully getting this through and this could really save a lot of lives.”

You can email your council representative here.

Jackie Sedley

Jackie Sedley


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