Denver Mayor Mike Johnston Declares State of Emergency on Homelessness

Denver's newly inaugurated mayor, Mike Johnston, wasted no time in addressing the pressing issue of homelessness in the city by declaring a state of emergency. 

The primary objective of this declaration is to provide housing for 1,000 homeless individuals currently living on the streets by the end of the year.

During a press conference, Johnston emphasized the urgent nature of the situation, highlighting the human rights, public health, and economic development challenges posed by homelessness in Denver. His campaign pledge is to eradicate street homelessness within his first term as mayor. According to the 2022 count by the Metro Denver Housing Initiative, there were 1,313 people living on the streets, while nearly three times that number faced homelessness but had access to shelter at night. Housing 1,000 individuals within six months would represent 75% of Johnston's four-year goal.

Although the emergency declaration itself doesn't incur costs, funding will be required for the shelters. Johnston explained that the city budget already has allocated funds for this purpose, and the cost structures for various housing options, such as rental units, hotel conversions, and micro-communities, will be determined based on community feedback.

To address this urgent matter, ten mayoral appointees will be tasked with implementing strategies to achieve the housing goal. Johnston's declaration is reminiscent of a similar action taken by former Mayor Michael Hancock during the migrant crisis. This declaration enables Denver to access state and federal grant money and expedite services. Additionally, it activates the emergency operations center, facilitating coordination between housing, homelessness outreach, and public health agencies.

Following the announcement, Johnston met with organizations experienced in assisting the homeless population, including the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and public health experts. John Parvenksy, former head of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, revealed that efforts were made under the previous administration to have homelessness recognized as an emergency. However, those efforts did not result in a declaration until now.

The motivation behind Johnston's emergency declaration is not due to shelter overcrowding but rather focuses on unsheltered individuals living outdoors and in encampments. By addressing the needs of this vulnerable population, the aim is not only to help them regain stability but also to reclaim public spaces and sidewalks for the benefit of the entire city.