Jan 3, 2024 - News

Mayor Mike Johnston reaches goal of sheltering 1,000 unhoused people

A woman packs up her belongings at a homeless encampment in Denver before being relocated into a city-sponsored hotel room in September. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston is claiming victory for reaching his goal of sheltering 1,000 unhoused people, but even he acknowledges the real work has just begun.

Why it matters: Johnston β€” who declared a state of emergency on homelessness when he took office in July β€” appears to have kept his key campaign promise, an effort that has dominated his first six months as mayor.

What's happening: As of Sunday, preliminary city data shows that Johnston's administration had moved 1,034 people into "safe, stable and transitional housing," including hotels, non-group shelters and a new micro-community.

  • 98% remain sheltered, and a quarter of them have found permanent housing, per city figures.
  • In the process, 10 large homeless encampments have been "permanently closed," meaning anyone who returns could face legal consequences.

Reality check: Although Johnston said he met his goal of "housing" 1,000 people, it comes with caveats.

What they're saying: "Hotels and motels are much safer places for people to be than sleeping outside, but what we really need to be focused on is how are we going to move them into a long-term housing option," Colorado Coalition for the Homeless spokesperson Cathy Alderman told us.

  • "How are we going to ensure it's accessible, affordable, that people have access to services in the long-term, not just for these periods of time while they're in these temporary spaces?"

Of note: Johnston's plan, which includes services like mental health care, substance misuse treatment and workforce training, isn't cheap.

  • It's estimated to cost nearly $50 million, or about $50,000 per person β€” most of which is taxpayer-funded.

What's next: The mayor said he plans to "double down" on homelessness resolution efforts in 2024, allocating another $50 million to house an additional 1,000 people this year.

What we're watching: Whether his efforts will make a dent in metro Denver's overall homelessness population, which will be tallied in the annual point-in-time count on Jan. 22.

  • The number of unhoused people in the region spiked 46% from 2022 to 2023, outpacing all major metro areas except for Chicago, according to a federal report released last month.
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