Apr 3, 2024 - News

Denver's homeless sheltering program costing less than projected

A woman stares solemnly at the ground, where multiple suitcases and bags are sitting, as she leans against a bed with white sheets inside a hotel.

Cecilia Montielh gets emotional as she looks at her own hotel room where she will be able to stay for 90 days in Denver due to a city program providing shelter to people. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Mayor Mike Johnston's administration has spent $35.3 million for his signature initiative to shelter people living on city streets.

State of play: The figures β€” which so far are less than the $46 million initially projected β€” were presented to the committee Wednesday by Cole Chandler, the mayor's senior adviser for homelessness.

Why it matters: The discrepancy still prompted criticism from Denver City Council members, who want the mayor's staff to provide clarity on how money is spent to operate eight sheltering sites.

What they're saying: "I want to make sure that we're fully transparent on this so that we can be accountable to the taxpayers," Councilmember Stacie Gilmore told Chandler during the committee meeting.

  • Gilmore wants an estimate for operation costs for each hotel or micro-community.

Caveat: Chandler told council members the difference in actual vs. projected spending from last year is due to programs only opening near the end of 2023. The administration anticipates spending more of the projected money this year.

  • The city spent $10.3 million during the last half of 2023, while roughly $25 million has been used in the first three months of 2024, Chandler said.

Follow the money: Last year's funds went to hotels ($2.6 million); micro-communities ($6.4 million); and encampment resolution and other costs ($1.4 million).

  • The program primarily used city funds and federal pandemic aid money: $4.2 million from Denver's general fund and $5.9 million in American Rescue Plan dollars, according to Wednesday's presentation.

Context: The city operates eight sites, including five hotels and three micro-communities.

After successfully housing 1,000 people last year, the mayor shifted the program this year to a new target to bring 1,000 more people indoors.

The intrigue: The city is tracking shelter exits, and its data shows people are leaving for multiple reasons, like moving into leased units, other shelters, or family reunification.

  • Other exits are far more grave: Nine people have died and 18 have been jailed, while 28 people left for unknown reasons, and 66 people returned to unsheltered homelessness, city data shows.

Between the lines: Councilmember Kevin Flynn said he's concerned about moving people directly from the streets into leasing units like apartments without proper services to help them with the transition.

  • 399 people have been placed into permanent housing under the mayor's program, city data shows.

What's next: Chandler told the committee budget constraints make it unclear whether the city will develop more sheltering sites.

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