HAND Statement on Houseless State of Emergency

HAND Statement on Houseless State of Emergency:  

What it should do and what it should not do

The new Mayor’s recently declared State of Emergency could be used for good, or it could be used for bad. 

The houseless community has been declaring we are in a state of emergency for many many years now! The Mayor’s declaration of an official City recognized State of Emergency reflects the urgency of the houseless community, and opens some resources and streamlined processes that could greatly benefit houseless people in Denver. Or… it could be used to further criminalize people living on the streets and push people into controlled sites without respect for human rights, freedoms, or needs.  

Going into this State of Emergency we want to ask that everyone involved – from the Mayor, to the City Council, to providers, to houseles people, and everyone – use this State of Emergency to the benefit of our community, not harm. This means…

The State of Emergency must not be used to further criminalize people. 

  • Sweeps and camping ban enforcement must not be used to push people to sites like SOS or tiny home village sites. If these sites are set up and people prefer to live in these sanctioned camps than in street camps, then great, they should be able to live there. But if people are pushed into these sites just to get away from police harassment and constant sweeps on the streets, this is not a true choice of wanting to live in these sites. 
  • Sweeps and camping ban enforcement should not be used to hide people by pushing them to far out, hidden areas, shelters, out of town, or jail in order to create the appearance that houselessness is decreasing. 
  • The Street Enforcement Team should be disbanded to stop the increased harassment of houseless people sleeping on the streets which is a significant City tool of criminalization. 
  • Criminalization of people who use drugs must not be ramped up as a means to further demonize, incarcerate, and kill off houseless people who use drugs. 
  • No effort to use involuntary mental health commitments, forced mental health treatment should be instituted. Any movement in this direction to give unconstitutional authority to enforcers to decide when someone needs mental health treatment and force them into treatment will be a non-starter for this whole State of Emergency effort. 
  • The use of police to harass (and even arrest) houseless advocates, mutual aid supporters, and people sharing food with houseless people must be stopped. Community members advocating for and supporting houseless people must be supported in this work, not harassed and arrested for sharing food and saving lives.  
  • Hate groups like “Citizens for a Clean and Safe Denver” must be recognized as hate groups. The active partnership between them and City/police, including members riding along with police at sweeps and the prioritization of encampments to sweep based on their calls to the City, must be stopped. 

The State of Emergency must not be used only for visible houseless people on the streets, but must include people in shelters, or other situations without housing. 

  • As of now, the Mayor’s plan is only to secure housing for visible houseless people on the streets and he leaves out people in shelters or other houseless situations entirely. This is not OK. People in shelters need housing just as much as people on the streets. To only prioritize housing for people on the streets is a clear sign this is only about optics, not housing for all in most need. 
  • New housing opportunities created should include people in shelters. 
  • Addressing horrific conditions and rules in shelters should be part of the actions taken in this State of Emergency.  

The State of Emergency must be used to create real, lasting, new housing options, not just temporary non-housing or existing low income housing used. 

  • SOS camps, Tiny Home Villages, Safe Outdoor Parking sites, and hotel shelters cannot count as housing. These living spaces are designated as “non-congregate shelter”, not housing. While they do have the vital element of having private space, they do not have amenities (bathroom, water, etc), tenants rights, and are run like shelters with strict rules and staffing. In most cases, they are not permanent. From our housing survey with 828 houseless people “Pipe Dreams and Picket Fences’ ‘ respondents overwhelmingly preferred real housing with amenities and rights, to these types of living sites. While many people do prefer these sites to the streets or congregate shelters, they do not prefer them to real housing. Furthermore, some people prefer the streets to these controlled sites, while they do want real housing. People cannot be forced, pushed into living in one of these sites – but rather energy should be put toward creating the kind of real housing people want.   
  • Rapid Rehousing cannot count as housing toward meeting the “1000 people housed”. Rapid Rehousing is not permanent, often lasting only a year or less. While some people can use this temporary financial support to secure employment that can pay for ongoing rent, this is not possible for many people (given the price of rent). Far too many people who get rapid rehousing, lead back on the streets when the financial support runs up. 
  • Anyone housed in existing low-income housing cannot count to meeting “1000 people housed.” These housing options, mostly through non-profit provider housing, already are filled when openings come up through existing waitlists of houseless people. Furthermore, anyone housed through existing housing vouchers cannot count toward the 1000 person goal as these already existed and houseless people wait years to have their name chosen for one of these existing vouchers. Denver’s 2022 “Housing Surge” (funded primarily by the federal government), which claimed a success of housing 359 households in 100 days, is a prime example of what the Mayor’s State of Emergency plan for 1000 people housed must not be. When you break down the numbers, only 22 of these housing connections made were new long term housing (in this case through lifetime vouchers) that did not previously exist in Denver. You can read the full breakdown and analysis here). This same PR method of counting existing housing or non-housing as new housing toward a goal to be credited to the City cannot be repeated in this State of Emergency. This does not contribute toward a goal of ending homelessness. It contributes toward a goal of saving face to sound like something is being done to create housing, when in fact it is not. 
  • One method to create new low-income lasting real housing options in a short amount of time is City Master Leasing. This would entail the City leasing apartments off the private market and then subleasing the units to houseless people at 1//3 of their income. This is a means of utilizing existing housing stock built for the rich, to become housing for the poor. No construction time is required and the housing search process is streamlined to get houseless people in units fast. 

The State of Emergency must be used to create desired housing success for newly housed residents, not quick push into housing with no transition support. 

  • This push to housing 1000 people must not be just to put people in housing and check mark your success. People moving from houselessness into housing usually need assistance with a number of elements of this transition including the housing search, paperwork, transportation, furniture, cleaning supplies, social support, and other things. Existing case managers are overworked and not supported in providing this needed support to newly housed people. Additional trained case managers and/or a new well trained transition support team with access to needed resources should be instituted to make this 1000 person housing goal a success for the newly housed people, not just the numbers on the book. 

We are in fact in a State of Emergency. But the State of Emergency is not just one of rich people not wanting to see poor people, it is one of poor people needing housing with real lasting affordability, proper amenities, autonomy, and other support. May we use this declaration to create this housing, not criminalize and hide poverty.

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