Are we moving too quickly? De-masking and gathering in ever-larger groups too soon? Too soon for comfort for many. Too soon for science? Only time will tell.
But without question, the times are definitely changing. In Denver, and across the country, folks — vaccinated or not — are stepping out into the sunshine for better or for worse.
As City and County of Denver employees, including the mayor and members of the city council, start looking at beginning the return to a closer-to-normal, in-person style of doing business, the work that lies ahead is certainly daunting.
We’ll be getting some $308 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to help with restoring city services and mitigating COVID-19’s impact on our economy. In addition, Mayor Michael Hancock is proposing a $400 million bond issue to further stimulate economic revitalization, put people back to work and whittle down the list of needed city improvements leftover from our last bond issue in 2017. To offer your thoughts on how the money should be spent, visit www.risetogetherdenever.org.
The Department of Parks and Recreation alone is pushing ahead with on-boarding more than 1,000 employees who were laid off during the pandemic, and are now truly essential to getting our 30 recreation centers, 15 indoor and 16 outdoor swimming pools up and running, and our parks maintenance teams up to full strength. That is just a snippet of the work that must be accomplished to get our city back to full operation.
How to house all who would make Denver home has risen from a huge problem at the beginning of 2020 to a full-blown, ever-growing crisis today. The price of Denver real estate — with homes selling for much more than the asking price that even optimistic home sellers were posting — continues to defy rational explanation, making it increasingly pie-in-the-sky-esque for middle class families to find a Denver home they can afford, whether to buy or rent.
At the low end of the economic spectrum, we continue to move forward — though at a frustrating pace — with a variety of transitional shelters and more-permanent housing options to lift up the 1,000 (give or take) individuals who daily populate the tents and vehicles that have become their homes on Denver’s sidewalks, waterways and streets. We don’t yet have adequate inventory of either housing or services to get them into a secure residence with a reasonable path forward to independence — whether their main struggle is mental health, drug addiction or simply a temporary setback that took from them their home.
It appears there is help coming from our friends hard at work under the Colorado Capitol’s golden dome. As HB-1117 winds its way through final negotiations and edits, housing advocates are optimistic it will eventually pass with provisions that broaden the ability of jurisdictions to demand more affordable housing from new rental developments. Non-profit land trusts, and other programs, are gaining traction to provide new ways to facilitate families moving from rent-to-purchase so they can begin accumulating generational wealth previously not available.
Crime rates have risen considerably in the past year, especially property crimes and violent crimes. Hancock convened a Youth Violence Prevention Action Table more than a year ago — of which I serve on the executive committee — to address the growing tsunami of violence to and by our city’s youth. A number of initiatives have come out of that group which should bear fruit and set at-risk youth on a more positive path away from negative behaviors and toward future success.
By the time you read this, the mayor will have released news of a new program focused on violence in five specific areas of our city — amounting to less than 2% of Denver’s land mass — that account for about half of the gun violence and deaths citywide. Among other things, the new initiative will include community member partnerships with police in efforts to rebuild these communities, as well as their relationship with law enforcement.
Looking once again to Denver’s Capitol, Sen. Chris Hansen (D-Denver) is co-sponsoring a bill to create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention to help stem the tide. The state has passed, and is considering, additional legislation to give municipalities more flexibility in drafting gun laws appropriate for their residents, and keep guns safely stored and out of the hands of those with violent misdemeanors on their records.
Also working to increase safety in our city, the community-driven Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety — which was created in response to Denver’s handling of demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis — has just released a list of 112 recommendations it wants the city to implement to make our Denver safe for all residents. I look forward to absorbing the report and engaging in conversation with my colleagues and the community on how to move forward toward that goal of public safety for all. To view the plan, visit www.denvertaskforce.org.
We need to increase our commitment to multi-modal transportation options that will provide people with non-auto options to moving around our community, and finally get us headed in the right direction to eliminate vehicle-related deaths.
We also need to continue to up our game in addressing the potentially-catastrophic effects of climate change.
Let’s keep working together to get Denver not just back on track, but on a new track where all Denverites have a chance to thrive and enjoy the things that have always made Denver a great place to live.
Paul Kashmann represents District 6 on the Denver City Council. He can be reached at email@example.com or 720-337-6666.
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