Denver Direct: Denver City Councilwoman Kneich on Homeless‏

Friday, April 6, 2012

Denver City Councilwoman Kneich on Homeless‏

I appreciate you sharing your concerns on this important issue. Resident safety is one of the foundational issues to any community, people must feel safe to want to live and work in our communities. Large numbers of individuals living on our streets does impact quality of life for other residents. But our concern for safety must also include consideration for those who are on the streets.

And as we discuss the issue of homelessness, we cannot ignore one of the root causes – a severe lack of affordable housing. A recent estimate showed Denver has a shortage of at least 27,000 affordable rental units given our population and the jobs/wages in our city. Ultimately, housing is the cure for most homelessness, and for many years I’ve worked to support more mixed income housing for low-wage workers, seniors and disabled populations. This continues to be one of my office’s highest priorities, with the greatest potential to make a difference on homelessness.

So it’s important to keep the eye on the cure to the issue. But treating the symptoms matters too, and there are a percentage of homeless individuals facing challenges beyond affordability of housing. There are a number of methods to decrease street-homelessness that Denver has not tried: 1) a true 24 hour shelter that never closes and allows individuals to sleep/rest and get services at all hours of all days, 2) improved shelter conditions/criteria so fewer folks are excluded – such as allowing couples to enter together, permitting those under the influence of a substance but not misbehaving, etc. 3) more shelter beds distributed to new areas where shelters are not currently concentrated, and 4) increased comprehensive mental health/substance abuse treatment which is going to become more possible in 2014 with health care reform, but could be expanded now with greater local resources dedicated. It is my strong belief that until Denver implements these practices we won’t have success through a law enforcement approach.

In terms of the proposed ordinance, we are still waiting to see what additional resources, if any, are being proposed to be paired with the ordinance. It is constitutionally questionable for us to arrest an individual for using a blanket on the street if there is no alternative – no shelter space for which that person is eligible, or if they are number 200 on a waiting list for treatment. So I’ll be looking at that issue closely.

I recognize the quality of life concerns that motivated this ordinance, and I will advocate for the approaches above as a better and more proven method for reducing the impacts while staying within the guidelines of the constitution and protecting the safety of those who are homeless with no other options.


Councilwoman Robin Kniech