Nov 28, 2023 - News

Denver considers changing cold weather strategy for unhoused people

East Colfax after an overnight snowstorm in Denver in January 2023. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Two Denver city councilmembers want to ban homeless encampment sweeps when the city is experiencing severely cold weather.

Driving the news: Shontel Lewis and Sarah Parady presented a plan Monday that also includes changing when warming shelters open.

Why it matters: The proposal seeks to improve safety for unhoused people, who are at greater risk of frostbite, hypothermia or even death during cold weather.

Details: Under the proposal, the city would open cold weather shelters once temperatures are predicted to fall to 32 degrees or lower.

  • Right now, the threshold for opening centers is 20 degrees or lower, along with other factors, including when existing homeless shelters reach capacity, snow forecasts and wind chills.
  • Parady noted the current rules for warming centers are based on a written policy from the mayor's office, not city law.

Zoom in: The proposal also bans encampment sweeps if the temperature will be freezing when the clearing is scheduled to begin.

  • Some exceptions for the ban would include when there's a greater risk than the weather to people living in encampments.

Threat level: Denver police are investigating four outdoor deaths from this past weekend, when the city experienced below-freezing temperatures, though the department told the Denver Post at least two deaths weren't related to the cold.

Of note: A survey of people experiencing homelessness conducted by B-Konnected, an agency that connects landlords with tenants, shows a vast majority said they don't have adequate shelter to keep themselves safe during freezing temperatures.

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