Denver’s homeless situation has escalated to the point where a local resident Jon Caldara felt compelled to dump human excrement outside his office at City Hall to express his discontent — receiving a surprisingly sympathetic response from Democratic Mayor Mike Johnston on Thursday.
“I’ve known Jon Caldara for a long time, so we’ve had more than our handful of discussions, but I think he and I share the same goal, which is what we want is be able to get people housed and be able to get back clean, safe public spaces that everyone can access,” Johnston said in remarks to Fox News Digital.
Johnston, despite being a Democrat, identifies as a nonpartisan mayor for Denver. The city, which heavily favored President Biden in the 2020 elections, grapples with rising living costs and an increasing homeless population. Johnston, after assuming office in July, promptly labeled homelessness a public emergency. He then unveiled a $50 million strategy aiming to transition 1,000 individuals into temporary or semipermanent residences by the close of the year, as reported by CBS Denver.
“We now have one of the highest commercial vacancy rates of any city in America,” Johnston said.
Johnston also highlighted a staggering 300% surge in homelessness over the past half decade, resulting in more deaths of Denver’s street inhabitants. This issue, he emphasized, stands as a top concern for both the electorate and his office.
“We view that as a crisis on all fronts,” he said.
Addressing the root causes, Johnston acknowledged the role of drug abuse, especially the nationwide fentanyl crisis, and mental health challenges. However, he primarily attributed the homelessness surge to Denver’s exorbitant living costs.
“We believe you stabilize people in the same way that they got destabilized,” he said.
Johnston detailed the city’s approach, which includes converting hotels into micro units and establishing tiny home villages on vacant plots. These measures aim to offer transitional spaces where individuals can regain their footing over a few months.
“If we can get all those folks that are currently unsheltered into housing and can close those encampments and keep them closed and reactivate the city, we will have done what most other cities have struggled to do, which is actually to get people into housing and to get back vibrant, joyful, safe downtowns and no longer have encampments in them,” Johnston added.
However, Caldara criticized Johnston’s strategy.
“Another ‘housing first’ plan throwing $ at the homeless,” he texted, proposing stricter law enforcement and street clean-ups.
Caldara also authored a column suggesting Denver should emulate Colorado Springs’ approach to the issue. He criticized Johnston’s methods, labeling the housing units as mere shelters for the homeless after “a responsibility-free day of criminal activity.”
In response to allegations that Denver neglects law enforcement, Johnston’s spokesperson, Jordan Fuja, emphasized the mayor’s commitment to upholding the law for all citizens. She also mentioned plans to bolster the police force in the 2024 budget.
Regarding housing prerequisites, Johnston’s office clarified there would be no sobriety mandates for entry into the micro-communities. Service providers will oversee these communities and establish essential rules for residents.
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