Denver business leaders want immediate answers to homelessness

Denver needs at least 30,000 affordable apartments to solve the homelessness crisis, eliminate tent camps and restore the atmosphere that defines the city. If everything goes according to plan in the next five years, 5,000 to 6,000 units will be added to the city.

The vast difference was a moot point, as business owners in Denver, increasingly frustrated by the city’s situation, discussed their concerns this week with organizations that help the homeless find housing and shelter.

“It’s Bad and Getting Worse” was the headline of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce agenda, and there was also no argument from groups working to solve the problem. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the State Office of the Homeless Initiative are providing more housing and services than ever before, but cannot keep up with demand.

According to a study by the National Corporation for Supportive Housing, Colorado needs about 14,600 supportive housing units that come with not only rent assistance but mental health, addiction, and medical care. Today, the Coalition for the Homeless has about 1,500 Denver units of assisted living, which are considered the best solution for eliminating tent camps and the need for city-sanctioned camps because they house those who have long lived. are homeless and often require medical attention to live.

While business owners support long-term solutions for housing, they also want immediate help, said Beth Moysky, a senior vice president at Downtown Denver Partnerships, which advocates for the business community. She regularly hears from business owners who say their customers feel unsafe because of the number of people on the streets, including people with mental illness and talking to themselves when they pass by.

“I get calls from property managers and property owners who say, ‘I have a camp across the street or across the street. What are you going to do about it?'” he said.

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Moysky said he is concerned not only about businesses, but also about people who are homeless and hurt by other people on the streets. “Many of them are victimized by criminals who are bringing drugs into the environment and other activities that are illegal,” she said. “We are working with the police department to address the criminal element.”

The Downtown Denver Partnership also seeks a higher level of staffing in the city’s Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR, program, an alternative to police response that involves sending a worker trained in mental health.

But homeless advocates said Colorado is due for a big-time solution.

“We have only one goal: We want to see people off the streets,” said John Pervensky, head of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. “We want them to have a safe place, hopefully, in their own home. But the approach is not to criminalize the homeless. It’s about building and building solutions that we know work, and it’s going to be on such a scale.” But to do what suits the need, not to solve the 5% problem.”

The number of homeless people is constantly changing, as the annual homeless count shows that the majority of people sleeping in shelters and tents became homeless within the past year. The latest count found 6,888 people were homeless in the seven-county metro area in one night in January, which organizers say is an estimated 31,000 people who are homeless during the year.

Add to that a survey that night that found that about 30 people who are homeless were hospitalized. And, across the state, 21,000 public school students are homeless, either living in shelters, living with other families or sleeping on friends’ couches.

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In a room full of business professionals in suites, some wanted numbers: How much money would it take to get everyone off the streets and into the housing?

David Zucker, CEO of Zocalo Community Development, a real estate developer dedicated to affordable housing, attempted a rough calculation of the math.

It would cost about $300,000 to build each of the 14,600 ancillary housing units needed in Colorado, so that’s about $4.4 billion. The units would cost approximately $300 million per year to operate, including mental health and medical services.

“A significant amount,” he said.

But the investment could pay off in the long term, Zucker said, noting that it costs taxpayers thousands of dollars per year per person who is homeless in medical, prison and other services. Dismantling the cantonment can revive business, resulting in increased sales and tax revenue for the city and state.

Kristin Tombs, director of the State Office of the Homelessness Initiative, pointed out a new tax credit for businesses that invest in solving homelessness. Starting in 2023, businesses that donate to build affordable housing or aid for the homeless can receive a tax credit of 25% of the total contribution in cities or 30% in rural areas.

Brandt van Sickle, homeless liaison for the City of Aurora, searches for homeless people on the morning of January 25, 2022. Annual “point-in-time” observations and surveys, usually in late January, are conducted in early January. In the morning to avoid over-counting of the population. (Olivia Sun, via The Colorado Sun Report for America)

Moysky, with the Downtown Denver Partnership, said he agrees that long-term investments work. The city’s nationally recognized Social Impact Bond program, which sends outreach workers to the streets to find the most frequent users of emergency rooms and prisons and provide them with housing, saw 77% of participants move from housing and streets after three years. kept away.

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But while Colorado awaits the results, business and property owners need more, she said.

“When they have a more uniformed presence, when they see outreach workers, they feel safer,” Moysky said. “The hard part is that gap in the middle.”


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