Sep 21, 2022 - News

Colorado's new homelessness czar's approach

Cole Chandler, director of homelessness initiatives for the Colorado Department of Human Services. Photo: Courtesy of Keila Mendoza of the Colorado Village Collaborative

Cole Chandler β€” the force behind tiny home villages and safe outdoor camping sites for unhoused people in Denver β€” now oversees the state's efforts to prevent homelessness.

Why it matters: Chandler's newly carved out position as director of homeless initiatives for Colorado Department of Human Services illustrates how homelessness has escalated from a Denver problem to a statewide one.

Details: Chandler told Axios Denver that one of his first goals is ensuring 75% of the roughly 6,000-8,000 people experiencing homelessness each year who are on state cash-assistance programs get connected to housing assistance.

  • Right now, Chandler says the state doesn't have a baseline for what percentage of people end up connected with housing assistance because the numbers go untracked.
  • He also will coordinate between state and local agencies, like those providing county-wide services, to identify gaps.
  • He said he can be a "translator" between people who are homeless and government officials β€” a relationship traditionally marked by tension.

What they're saying: "I feel like I'm coming in with a charge … to really take action steps and try to advance change, and that's something I'm really excited about," Chandler told Axios Denver.

Yes, but: The tiny home villages and sanctioned campsites that Chandler is known for have faced some controversy.

  • Globeville residents rallied against relocating a tiny home village in 2019, with some saying they felt pressured to host the site. The village was moved there the same year.

Of note: Chandler isn't working to bring sanctioned camping locations to a statewide program. Instead, the governor's strategy is to create more affordable housing and access to health services.

  • Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis, said the governor also believes in "working with local communities on the enforcement of their laws."

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