Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Tuesday that the city will open a 600-space shelter for men at the National Western Complex’s Hall of Education, shifting to “Plan B” after the governor declined to increase his deployment of National Guard troops.
The city hopes to add a second shelter to house 400 women. In addition, the city has finalized a contract for 151 individual rooms, Hancock said — doubling Denver’s current total.
Gov. Jared Polis’ office recently deployed 250 National Guard troops to staff Denver’s existing shelters, but expressed reluctance Monday about ordering up more, saying he would rather work with hotel and motel operators to house the homeless.
The city had sought additional troops to staff new shelters, but the 250 can be used in existing shelters, allowing regular staff to fill the new complex.
The new space will alleviate pressure on the crowded existing shelters and hopefully allow for appropriate social distancing across the board, said Denver Chief Housing Officer Britta Fisher. Existing shelters are overcrowded, with beds approximately 4 feet apart at some of the Denver Rescue Mission’s shelters. That’s far short of the 6-foot minimum “social distancing” measures recommended by public health officials.
As for the individual rooms, many hotels have been resistant.
In all, Denver officials have contacted at least 50 hotels, 10 of which replied with a solid “no,” city spokesperson Ryan Luby said in an email.
“Another 10 or so said they might help, but not with people experiencing homelessness,” Luby said.
Hancock wrote an open letter Monday to operators imploring them to help Denver during this time of need.
For example, the city owns the ground under the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, but the business has exclusive rights to operate the hotel. And while the airport owns and operates the Westin Denver International Airport, the hotel’s resources cannot be diverted away from Federal Aviation Administration purposes, he said.
Organizations advocating for the homeless are also meeting with resistance in trying to line up individual spaces.
Two contracts nearing completion were “blown up” because the operator was willing to rent the rooms but not provide services, John Parvensky, president and CEO of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said during a Monday press conference.
“It’s one thing to have four walls and a door to be able to put people in,” Parvensky said. “But if there’s not somebody who’s providing maintenance, who’s providing the housekeeping, who’s providing security, who’s making sure the property is operating well, you can imagine that it’s really a recipe for disaster.”
Denver had previously secured 150 individual rooms — far short of the thousands city officials say they might need — and 93 of them are already occupied with people requiring quarantine space as they recover from the virus or await test results.
Internal city status reports indicate management of the spaces has been a challenge.
“Staff struggling with issues of loose or un-observed protocol for referral to ‘Respite Rooms’ and lack of enforcement of quarantine,” an April 3 report indicates.
Pricing is also a challenge as the coalition tries to secure rooms, said Cathy Alderman, a coalition vice president.
The organization was negotiating prices between $40 and $80 a night, but after public health officials issued a letter of intent for similar leasing agreements at $150 a night, negotiations with the coalition stopped in their tracks, Alderman said.
That letter has since been retracted, but the damage is done, she said.
“People are going to have that number stuck in their head,” Alderman said. “It’s more than we can afford.”
This story was updated to correct that National Guard troops will not be staffing the new shelter.