Denver council OKs $20M deal for new emergency homeless shelter

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The Denver City Council has approved a $19.8 million contract to open a new emergency homeless shelter in Northeast Park Hill that will serve up to 450 people as wintry weather quickly approaches.

The move, finalized in a 12-0 Aug. 31 vote with Councilman Paul Kashmann absent, comes amid a homelessness crisis that has collided with soaring pandemic-induced unemployment, further threatening housing security for residents struggling to make ends meet.

“The pandemic impacted our sheltering system significantly, and it has been one of our highest priorities during our response to mitigate that impact and ensure people continued to have a safe indoor space to go to,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement after the vote.

“The around-the-clock sheltering to be offered at this new location and other existing shelters provides a home base for individuals during this continuing public health emergency where they can stay healthy and safe,” he said.

Renovations on the 82,000-square-foot space will begin in September with the aim of opening in late December, or “as soon as feasible,” according to Denver’s Department of Housing Stability.

“We know that the solution for homelessness is housing,” and that the new shelter is “but a partial solution” needed to house people through the pandemic, Britta Fisher, the city’s chief housing officer, told the Denver City Council’s Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee on Aug. 18.

Denver’s shelter capacity has been sliced by 56%, or about 1,200 beds, Fisher said, because of social distancing requirements to help curb COVID-19.

The new shelter will be located at 4600 E. 48th Ave., adjacent to an existing shelter operated by Denver Rescue Mission, which Fisher said will allow the new shelter to leverage those resources.

It will be open 24 hours, and the city is exploring ways to serve couples, pet owners, women and others who struggle to be accommodated in the traditional shelter system.

The 10-year lease agreement with Colorado-based Dencom LLC will be funded in its first year using federal emergency aid. Denver housing officials intend to pursue state and private donor dollars to fund subsequent years.

The term of the lease allows for two additional five-year extensions, as well as the option for the city to purchase the building after 30 months but before the expiration of the fifth year of the initial lease term.

Earlier this year, the city stood up two emergency homeless shelters at the National Western Complex and the nearby Denver Coliseum, which together slept more than 1,000 people. The city also secured more than 800 hotel rooms for people without housing who were affected by or at risk of catching the coronavirus.

Women and transgender people who were sleeping at the Coliseum were moved to hotel rooms and other existing shelters earlier in August, Fisher said. The men sleeping at the National Western Complex, which is now closed, have since been moved into the Coliseum.

“At the end of the day, do we like to have smaller shelters? Sure we do,” Fisher said earlier this month. “However, in this emergency pandemic response, we have had a blow to our capacity. We need more space and we really need to look for some flexible spaces like this that could be programmed in a variety of ways as our numbers and needs flex and change throughout this virus response.”

The most recent Point-in-Time count of homelessness conducted by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative found there were at least 4,171 individuals experiencing homelessness in Denver in late January. Nearly a thousand of them were living unsheltered, and more than 500 were fleeing domestic violence.

This story is from Colorado Politics, a statewide political and public policy news journal. Used by permission. For more, visit coloradopolitics.com.

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