Newly Elected Mayor of Denver Mike Johnston Proclaims Homelessness a State of Emergency

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston made homelessness and housing instability a top priority on his second day in office. Johnston has referred to homelessness as “the most significant issue the city faces right now” and “a human rights issue.” By the end of 2023, he hopes to have provided housing for one thousand people, he added.

Johnston claims that the city will benefit from the emergency designation since it will allow them to access resources from the state and maybe the federal government. Johnston held a press conference on homelessness on Tuesday morning, when he mentioned a number of factors, including mental health, public health, social services, economy, and safety.

According to Johnston, the issue of homelessness will receive more attention, aid, and funding after the proclamation of a state of emergency. “Today is the start of a process to devote city resources, city personnel, the leadership of the city council and of the agencies against that target,” he said.

Johnston is also initiating a “78-neighborhood tour,” in which city councilmembers will visit the neighborhoods in their districts and talk to people and community organizations about what they need and what they can offer.

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In order to provide  “both the dignity and stability of housing and shelter, plus also access to bathrooms, kitchens, showers, all the core services, as well as all the wraparound services around mental health and addiction and long term workforce training to get people back up on their feet and back to be contributing members of society.”

Johnston said, “the city will be looking at land that can be converted to accommodate housing, such as through the use of tiny homes.” Johnston also mentioned bringing in 10 mayoral appointees to help lead this endeavor, but he did not provide any details on who they were or what they would be doing.

In addition, he mentioned that the city’s administration has located 197 publicly owned sites and numerous privately held places throughout the city that might support “micro-communities” to offer housing. According to Johnston, making the declaration is completely free.

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He did say that the city has money in its budget to help undertake the efforts, and that the emergency declaration would open up state funds to help the city, but that the total cost of them won’t be known until his administration can do more extensive research and talk to community organizations, private sector landlords and hotels, and other parties.

Among the top five concerns voiced by city dwellers are issues of homelessness, public safety, and criminal activity.

Johnston acknowledged that the homeless may not be interested in staying in shelters, but he disagreed with the notion that most homeless people don’t want housing: “We’ve seen really consistently from conversations with leaders in the unhoused communities […] is when you have really dignified, stable housing to give people access to, the great, overwhelming number of people that are currently unhoused, want those services. That’s 90% plus in many cities and also in some of the surveys we’ve done here.”

A recent poll of homeless people in Denver conducted by Housekeys Action Network Denver found that between 93% and 99% of the roughly 800 people it surveyed sought housing.

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