Mayor Johnstons progress fixing Denvers homelessness problem budget

Making a dent in Denver’s homelessness challenges requires some math.

Five hundred existing rental units that can be better leveraged by the city and its housing partners to make them available to people living on the streets; 500 hotel rooms in properties converted into shelters; and 500 tiny homes, ice fishing tents or other small-scale temporary shelters. That’s the formula Mayor Mike Johnston’s administration has in mind to achieve its ambitious goal of offering shelter to 1,000 people living on the city’s streets by the end of this year.

“We’re running at all three of those options as quickly as we can and with as much effort as we can in hopes that we deliver on a percentage of those targets on all of those parallel lines of effort get us over that 1,000-person goal,”  Cole Chandler, Johnston’s senior advisor for homelessness resolution, said.

Chandler outlined the plan in a presentation before the City Council safety, housing, education and homelessness committee on Wednesday morning. It was the most detailed public description of Johnston’s administration’s approach since the new mayor declared homelessness an emergency on his first full day in office and opened the city’s emergency operations center, Chandler said. The administration is expecting to go back before the council on Aug. 21 to ask that the emergency declaration be extended for a second — and likely not final — time.

Those who watched Wednesday’s briefing hoping for some clarity about where the proposed micro-communities or tiny homes villages might be built were out of luck. The committee and Chandler had their discussion about site acquisition behind closed doors in an executive session, citing the need for discretion during potential negotiations.

Here are five of the most interesting things we learned during the public portion of the briefing:

Right now, there are no plans to rezone any land for tiny home villages.

Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer asked Chandler if the administration planned to subvert land use plans in her District 5 to make way for any tiny home villages there. She referenced previous statements that the administration wants to set up those temporary communities in each of the 11 council districts and noted that any rezonings have to meet specific criteria for passage including conforming with existing city plans.

Chandler responded that as of right now the only rezoning requests the mayor’s homelessness team is preparing to bring to the council are those that would rezone hotels — like the Clarion Inn on W. 48th Ave. — to make them available as shelter space.

“You will be the first to hear about any sites in your district that are being contemplated. And we are not currently contemplating any rezonings for micro-communities,” Chandler said.

Sawyer, who was the only council member to vote against extending Johnston’s emergency declaration last month, emphasized that all the city-owned land in her district is park space that can’t be used for tiny home villages.

Specifics about funding are still fuzzy.

Little bits of info about how the city will seek to pay for all of the housing units it needs to meet its goal have been revealed.

In the case of a 194-room Best Western hotel in northeastern Denver the city hopes to open as a temporary shelter before the end of the year, the Denver Housing Authority is the buyer. But the city is making the roughly $26 million purchase possible with $11 million in funding backed by its affordable housing fund and forthcoming request that the City Council allocate $16 million in American Rescue Plan Act federal COVID relief dollars to the effort.

The Johnston administration has also filed an application to access more state-controlled COVID relief dollars and has opted into the funding program set up by Johnston’s favored Proposition 123 affordable housing vehicle. But that won’t be the full picture.

“I want to express that we’re working to develop a comprehensive budget and identify funding plans for this,” Chandler told the committee. “Part of what we’re doing is looking at leveraging existing efforts that are already budgeted and underway. And we’re looking to expand local, regional, state and philanthropic dollars towards this as well.”

The city is buying pop-up Pallet shelters and looking for people willing to manufacture tiny homes.

Chandler is the founder and past executive director of the Colorado Village Collaborative, the nonprofit group that brought the first — and so far only — tiny home villages and Safe Outdoor Spaces tent camps into the city’s homelessness toolbox.

He said Thursday that the city has 50 tiny homes available for homelessness resolution today and the Johnston administration’s goal is to increase that 10-fold. He might not publicly be saying where those tiny homes might go, but he did explain where the administration hopes to get the structures. One source: Pallet Shelter, a company that makes easy-to-assemble temporary housing units that are shipped in the form of prefabricated panels.

“Some of what we’ll be bringing forward to council in the coming weeks include some Pallet homes. That is a product that we can move on quickly and order a large number of those,” Chandler said. “But we’re also procuring for tiny homes development to take place so that people can basically bid to build tiny houses in a manufacturing setting for us as well.”

The city is seeking to hire an “encampment resolution” contractor.

As demonstrated by Johnston visiting an encampment before a sweep last week and the city’s pilot program bringing trash collection service to two other encampments, the administration is taking a different approach to illegal camping compared to former Mayor Michael Hancock.

Changing outreach techniques so that instead of getting one or two people in an encampment access to housing at a time the city can prepare entire encampments to move — and therefore shut down for good — is a focus Johnston and his representatives have talked about often over the first few weeks of his administration. Chandler said Wednesday that the city is looking for an outside service provider to manage that effort and a contract for that work is likely coming to the City Council for approval in the months ahead.

“Part of what we’re doing is really building this as the foundational piece of how we mobilize people into housing. And so the first priority is deploying an encampment resolution program and so we’re active in the contracting process to get a contractor up and running to create this new encampment resolution program,” he said.

That contractor would be in charge of monitoring homelessness data, enrolling people in the program and tracking outcomes as the city works to get people into housing and low-barrier shelter, according to Chandler.

There is a website to keep up with the city’s progress.

For those looking to keep up with the Johnston administration’s work toward that 1,000-person goal, the city has set up a website at

The information available there includes dates and times for upcoming public forums and a frequently asked questions page.  There is also a document explaining how property owners could sell or lease land to the city to aid in the effort.

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