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Denver Keeps Rooms for Homeless People Open with Million-Dollar Donation

Denver has had an overnight camping ban for eight years, leaving homeless people with nowhere to go.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that cities allow outdoor camping to reduce the spread of coronavirus in homeless shelters. 

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However, the mayor took a hard stance against the encampments, which before the recent sweeps had grown larger and more persistent as the pandemic dragged on and the city had seemed to relax its enforcement of the camping ban. 

On Monday, around $1.5 million was added to two contracts for JBK Hotels LLC to provide temporary housing to people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis.

Additionally, all occupants will receive three meals a day, mental health services, and more. The Salvation Army manages the contract at Aloft. Colorado Coalition for the homeless provides medical services.

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“The 140 rooms provided through this amendment are part of a larger effort by the Office of Housing Stability, or HOST, to offer non-congregate shelter for those experiencing homelessness,” according to a city staff report.

“The current total of protective action rooms is 451. If the original agreement were to expire, the city would lose access to 140 rooms, decreasing the number of rooms available and putting many vulnerable individuals at risk of losing stable shelter.”

Denver’s homelessness problem is now conspicuous — encampments that include couches and barbecue grills, and long lines for lunch at the back doors of churches.

According to the city’s count, outreach workers helped more than two dozen people who were camping around Morey Middle School find housing or hotels before crews swept the camp last week.  

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“People tend to think that homelessness is a finite number, and it’s not,” said Tracy Brooks, senior director of emergency services for the Denver Rescue Mission. “It’s not like we have 100 homeless people today and if we get all them housed, then we are done having homelessness.” 

In 2020, Denver officials said they would spend $11.9 million of the city’s $127 million in federal coronavirus relief funds on homelessness.

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They said money will go toward increasing shelter capacity and medical care for those living on the streets and in shelters and cars, and for hotel rooms for those who test positive for coronavirus or who are at high-risk of dying should they contract COVID-19.

At the same time, city officials still are reviewing potential sites for “safe outdoor spaces,” where people who do not want to live in the close quarters of a shelter during the pandemic could pitch a tent without fear of an early-morning sweep.

“The Denver Coliseum site is on the back burner as we examine other potential sites,” said Derek Woodbury, communications director for the city’s Department of Housing Stability. 

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