Hotel and motel rooms have a place in Denver's future homelessness strategy, officials say | MCUTimes

Hotel and motel rooms have a place in Denver’s future homelessness strategy, officials say

Early in the pandemic, Denver officials realized they needed hundreds of hotel and motel rooms to protect homeless people protected from COVID-19.

The effort has been so successful that they want to expand it further.

“It really helped shed light on the success of this type of intervention,” said Angie Nelson, the city’s deputy director of housing stability and homelessness resolution.

To date, Nelson said the city has helped more than 3,300 people living on the streets into rooms. It’s an effective way to keep them safe and help them move into housing, but Nelson said she wants to be able to offer these rooms to the wider homeless population.

Two people were given rooms during the pandemic, Scott Helms, 56, and Lisa Bohanon, 55, sat outside a hotel on the northern edge of the Jefferson Park neighborhood on Thursday afternoon. Bohanon gave the facilities where she has lived for several months a slow and deliberate thumbs down and Helms nodded in agreement.

DENVER, COLORADO – AUGUST 2: The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is using this hotel for high-risk COVIDs on September 2, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post)

“But it’s better than living on the streets,” Bohanon explained.

The couple acknowledged that the efforts have kept them safer during the pandemic and would almost certainly help others living on the streets or in the city’s shelters.

Since the beginning of the year, city officials and partnership organizations have connected about 260 homeless people with more permanent housing, according to Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. The majority of these people had stayed in hotel and motel rooms.

“It is much more effective than trying to house people directly out of shelters and directly out of camps,” the councilor said. “It’s much easier if someone is stable, with their own space, a place to store their belongings, a place with a telephone and computer access.”

The rooms have really provided stability, Helms and Bohanon agreed. Shelters can be dangerous and those who dwell in them risk having their few possessions stolen. So a room for yourself counts as a luxury, they said.

“It saved me,” Bohanon said.

At the same time, people living in the rooms feel as if they are being treated like children, Bohanon said, looking at an armed guard out of the corner of one eye. You are not allowed to have guests and there is a curfew at. 23.00. A few weeks ago, she missed the screen and staff locked her out of her room.

“That’s the price you pay,” Helms said. “You have to live by the rules here, otherwise they will write you off and throw you out.”

To continue the program that provides helms and bohanon rooms, Nelson’s office must extend its existing contract with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. A Denver City Council committee unanimously approved a $ 11.13 million extension on Wednesday, will send the measure to the full council later this month. If the council extends the contract, which seems likely, the city and its partners will be able to deliver up to 810 rooms by June 2022.

But the large amount of money is only available because the federal government will reimburse the city’s expenses when it responds to the pandemic. This means that the rooms are only available to those like Helms and Bohanon who are at high risk of complications if they are infected by the virus or those who are already symptomatic rather than the wider homeless population, Nelson said.

The coalition has been working to provide people with rooms for at least 15 years, the councilor said, but funding came from many different sources, so service was difficult to deliver consistently. Federal funding has made it easier to provide rooms by consolidating those efforts, she said.

But in the end, that money will dry up, Nelson said, and if the city is to expand the program, funding must come from somewhere else.

The rooms, combined with sanctioned camps, tiny homes and rapid rehousing, would create a more holistic strategy to address Denver’s growing homeless population, Nelson said.

“We find that temporary housing that looks like real housing is good for people because real housing is what everyone needs,” Nelson said.

The rooms would help, said 77-year-old Joseph Johnston, but they should also be paired with mental health and addiction services because many who live on the streets suffer from these disorders.

DENVER, COLORADO – AUGUST 2: Joseph Johnson, 77, is sitting outside his hotel room, where he now lives on September 2, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. The hotel is used by the Colorado Coalition for Homeless People at High Risk for COVID. (Photo by RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post)

Johnston was sitting outside his room on the second floor with the door open, looking out over the freeway toward Denver’s smoky skyline. He said he had moved from one sofa to another until March 2020, when he was placed in a room, which has given him a bit of comfort.

“But if you miss the last bus from downtown, it’s a long walk,” Johnston added, dangling a cigarette from his fingertips.

In fact, concierge services are included in the city’s strategy along with several hotel and motel rooms. Mayor Michael Hancock announced in May that the city will purchase a 94-room hotel on the city’s northeast side to protect up to 200 people. The sale is to be completed and the crisis center will open at the end of the year, the head office office Britta Fisher has said.

Fisher said in June that her team wants to buy more properties for the same purpose, though it is not clear how many. Finding owners who are willing to sell to the city has been a challenge, she said.

DENVER, COLORADO – AUGUST 2: Joseph Johnson’s room in a hotel room where he will be staying on September 2, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. The hotel is used by the Colorado Coalition for Homeless People at High Risk for COVID. (Photo by RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post)

Some funds are currently available, the councilor said, pointing to measure 2B, which voters approved by about 65% majority in November last year. This measure increased Denver’s sales tax and was to increase about $ 40 million each year to help people experiencing homelessness.

And millions more could be on the way. Hancock’s $ 450 million five-part bond proposal at Denver’s upcoming November vote includes a $ 38.6 million share for housing and housing projects. Should voters approve the measure, city officials could use the money to buy or convert buildings into shelters.

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