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Denver police and first responders have visited hotel shelters hundreds of times. Are they safer than the street?

Joe Rubino, The Denver Post on

Published in News & Features

DENVER — Mayor Mike Johnston says he raised concerns with the Salvation Army about security at a northeast Denver hotel-turned-homeless shelter the organization runs for the city in early December, on the first day residents moved in.

But for more than three months, those concerns went unaddressed, Johnston told The Denver Post. Then, on March 16, Dustin Nunn, 38, and Sandra Cervantes, 43, who were living in the former DoubleTree at 4040 N. Quebec St., were fatally shot in an incident that hasn’t resulted in any arrests. Eleven days later, another person was shot, this time surviving.

The shootings stand out as the most visceral and highly publicized crimes to take place in any of the shelter sites that make up the backbone of Johnston’s All In Mile High homelessness initiative. They turned a spotlight on safety and spurred city officials to step in and ramp up security measures at the hotel — while drawing attention to the Salvation Army’s failure to tap into an $800,000 allocation for security in its $10 million contract to operate that shelter.

The Post found in a review of Denver police and fire call logs that the initiative’s network of five hotels has demanded significant attention from the city’s safety agencies in recent months. Between Jan. 1 and March 17 — the day after Cervantes and Nunn were killed — police logged 955 calls for service that came in from the city’s five hotel shelters, according to records provided by the Denver Police Department.

That’s more than 12 calls per day over that time frame, with just over half initiated by police officers themselves, rather than 911 calls.

The former DoubleTree, the largest shelter in the city’s portfolio with 289 rooms, made up the lion’s share of that volume, with 465 calls for service, or roughly six per day.


Meanwhile, the Denver Fire Department, which often responds to medical reports, logged 272 calls for service to the five hotel shelters between Jan. 1 and March 12, according to records requested by The Post — or nearly four per day. Again, the former DoubleTree led the way, with 150 of those calls.

The security situation there prompted Mary Anna Thompson, an advocate for the homeless who was formerly homeless herself, to describe the facility as a “warzone” during a City Council public comment session this month.

“I guess houseless people’s lives don’t matter,” she said.

City officials have rushed to shore up security as Johnston’s initiative, launched after he took office in July, has grown. Besides the hotels, which were contracted out to three operators, it now includes the more recent additions of three micro-community sites, each with five dozen or fewer temporary housing units.


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