DeGette: Leaders must create housing for the homeless, starting now

May 15, 2021
In The News

Colorado is really good at a lot of things.

For years, our state’s economy has been consistently ranked among the best in the nation, our cities are often lauded as the best places to live, and our public lands are second to none.

One of the things we’re not good at, though, is ensuring everyone who lives here has an affordable place to call home.

Denver currently ranks 42nd in the nation when it comes to providing affordable housing for its low-income residents. As a result, every night, thousands of our fellow Denverites are forced to sleep on the streets without the warmth, safety and security that so many of us take for granted.

Every single person in our community — and throughout this country — deserves to have a roof over their head when they go to sleep at night.

Last week, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and I announced that we have requested more than $2 million in federal funding to help purchase the Stay Inn Hotel in downtown Denver and convert it into a shelter for those experiencing homelessness in our area.

Once complete, this 94-room hotel will be able to house more than 240 homeless residents a year. It will provide both non-congregate and supportive housing — with mental, behavioral-health and other services available onsite to help residents get back on their feet.

Studies have shown that when people experiencing homelessness are moved into hotel-like facilities both their mental and physical health begin to improve. They are also more likely to move into more permanent housing when they leave such facilities, compared to those who seek refuge in a transitional shelter.

The funding needed to complete this project is just one of ten Community Project Funding Requests I submitted to Congress this month with the hope of securing as much additional funding as possible to help those experiencing homelessness in our area.

In addition to the Stay Inn Hotel project, I requested funding for Urban Peak to build a new shelter for kids experiencing homelessness in our area, and for Colorado’s Coalition for the Homeless to provide recuperative care for homeless patients when they are discharged from the hospital.

These funding requests are more than just projects to those who need our help the most, they are potential lifelines.

As of a January 2020 city count, there were nearly 4,000 people experiencing homelessness in the city of Denver with less than 2,200 beds available throughout the city to help them – and that was before the pandemic hit.

The worst thing we, as a community, can do when faced with such a crisis is fail to act.

While securing the funding needed to complete these important projects would be a tremendous boost to our efforts to help the thousands of people experiencing homelessness in our area, it alone will not solve the problem.

Soon, Congress will begin to consider a massive $2 trillion infrastructure plan put forth by President Joe Biden that would provide approximately $213 billion for affordable housing programs, including $40 billion for public housing.

While there’s no doubt that such significant levels of funding could provide real relief to millions of people across the country, our ultimate success in ending this housing crisis will depend on how that money is spent  — and how well our leaders are able to work together.

What we need — now, more than ever — is an all-hands-on-deck style approach to address the root causes of this homelessness crisis.

We need all levels of government working together, as Mayor Hancock and I are doing now, to come up with creative new solutions to address this extremely complex issue.

While the pandemic did not cause this homelessness crisis in our community, it has made it worse. And it’s made the need for a whole-of-government approach to address it that much more urgent.

There is no one-size-fits-all type of solution that will solve this problem. While there are similar factors contributing to this crisis in towns and cities across the country, each community is unique – and each has its own set of challenges to overcome.

The only way we are going to solve this crisis here in our community – and in cities, like ours, across the county – is if federal and local leaders are working together, hand in hand.

Because to be successful at the end of the day, we need a level of resources that only our federal government can provide to fund the creative, new solutions that only our local governments can come up with.

One without the other simply isn’t enough to solve this crisis.