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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

The program, formerly called the “House 1,000” initiative, has moved 1,447 people indoors as of Friday. Of that number, 863 people still were staying in city-provided shelter space, 418 are in more permanent housing and 166 were listed with other outcomes, including 83 who returned to unsheltered homelessness.

Despite the high call volumes and rhetoric around the All In Mile High initiative, city leaders and their partners at the Salvation Army are sticking to a core message: The shelters are significantly safer than living on the street.

In the eyes of freshly reappointed Police Chief Ron Thomas, the program allows his department to deliver better service to people experiencing homelessness and other city residents alike.

“Not only are we able to provide these individuals the services that they desperately need inside of these facilities,” Thomas said in interview, “but instead of responding to thousands of encampment calls across the city year after year, we are now able to better divide our workload and be much more responsive to other challenges in the city.”

Thomas’ assertion is bolstered by another set of call data DPD shared with The Post. Across 11 former encampment locations around the city, the department says it fielded 745 calls for service combined in the 30 days before each was closed and residents were moved indoors.

In the 30 days immediately after city crews shut down each site, those 11 properties generated a combined 481 calls for service — a decrease of more than 35%, with some seeing calls drop by significantly more.


Mayor: “We’ve become less flexible now” on security

In the aftermath of the violence at the former DoubleTree, the city rushed to install a raft of security measures. Johnston said his administration’s mindset was to err on the side of safety, even if the initial approach to standing up the city’s greatly expanded shelter network was to make access as low-barrier as possible.

“I think we were more open to providers’ theories on how they wanted to run these sites in the early stages,” Johnston said last week during a meeting with journalists at The Post. “We’ve become less flexible now about what we think we owe to people in terms of basic security, and the DoubleTree is the best example of that.”

Maj. Nesan Kistan, the Salvation Army’s divisional commander based in Denver, has defended the nonprofit’s approach to safety at the DoubleTree facility, which the organization now calls The Aspen.


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