Yesterday a City Council Committee heard a presentation from HOST, DDPHE, and the Mayor’s office regarding winter response plans for houseless people. This presentation demonstrated the absence of any solid plan to provide needed safe warm space, gear, or halt sweeps based on medical knowledge or experience on the streets.
HOST officials said “no one was turned away from shelter last winter” and than “some people claim to have not gotten into shelter but those situations need to be investigated” – underlining the complete dismissal of what houseless people themselves are telling them is happening. (Many of these incidents were reported and witnessed directly by advocates and the City’s own outreach partners and still this reality is denied.)
DDPHE officials said the temperature standards of 10 degrees or 6 inches of snow which is supposed to activate warming centers and “maybe” cancel a sweep is based on the National Weather Service and was never backed by medical research or standards. The Mayor’s staff stated that cold weather sweeps policy was “flexible” but that they canceled sweeps in the extreme cold. While last winter the City did cancel two sweeps in the 10-15 degree temperature range, they also conducted several in this range and one on a day when it was 3 degrees. As this is sent this morning the City is sweeping an encampment of houseless people in 25 degrees – pushing them to who knows where and taking their gear in this freezing weather.
HOST stated in this meeting that their outreach teams go out with socks and hand warmers but no tents or sleeping bags. In response to questions from Council on this issue HOST said, “For folks who don’t want to go inside: There are advocacy groups that can help them.” Instead of securing life saving tents and sleeping bags, they pass this off to advocacy groups running on scrap budgets to provide this life saving gear. (NOTE: please donate to Mutual Aid Monday to help buy this gear!)
This committee meeting made it ever more clear that City and community action is needed to try and stop people from suffering and dying this winter. Already this winter it is our understanding at least 2 people have died on the streets due to exposure to the cold. This cannot be a standard we accept.
The following is an outline of the actions the City has taken in response to the community and the actions which still need to be taken this winter.
Positive Steps by the City / Providers this year:
-Adding outreach hours on weekends and evenings in weather emergencies (note: still waiting on confirmation of the details of this plan)
-Providing a direct line point of contact for community aid members dealing with crisis on the streets in extreme cold
-Adding transport, including ADA accessible, for transport to shelters at more times (note: still waiting on confirmation of the details of this plan)
Action Still Needed by City / Providers this year:
-Open cold weather overflow shelter
-plan for it now, including doing test drills
-operate in all cold weather conditions
-communicate about the shelter to houseless people well in advance of cold weather
-open to couples, people with pets, LGBTQ people, and all
-Providing transport from other shelters and from outreach to overflow shelter at all hours of the night
-This can be through contracted buses, Bayaud enterprises staff being paid over time, taxi services, etc…
-Ensure no one can be turned away from any shelter do to ATL (restricted list) and ensure communication of this policy to houseless people
-Keeping door staffed at the Rescue Mission and St Francis Center all night so anyone coming up from outside can access the shelter any time of the night
-Add staff to shelters in weather emergencies
-Ensure that shelters have a complete supply of cots or quality 8” floor pads, blankets and pillows for overflow. At least one shelter does not have this.
Warming Centers –
-Open recreation centers in all cold weather for free access
-active warming centers at 20 degrees and dry or 32 degrees and wet
-give all guests free day passes or simply ensure access to the full rec center (including using meeting rooms with chair for the warming center purpose)
-warming centers should be open all night, or if not all night there must be transport from there to shelters before they close.
-communicate this widely to houseless people
-Providing transport through outreach to Rec Centers
Hotel vouchers –
-Secure enough hotel rooms ahead of extreme cold not just for families but for individuals, couples, friends, who are freezing on the streets
-Give HOST the direct line of access to these hotel vouchers so no one has to go through police to get a hotel room (ensure clear point of contact for the community to access hotels)
Street support and Sweeps –
-Ensure outreach teams have proper gear including tents, sleeping bags, and tarps to give out
-Set policy forbidding sweeps anytime it is 32 degrees or under.
(Note: It would be better to be if it is raining, snowing, or if it is under 40 degrees but at the least there should be no sweeps under 32 degrees)
Sincerely Housekeys Action Network Denver, Mutual Aid Monday, Friends of SoDen, and other on ground community aid workers
Housekeys Action Network Denver
Towards rights, dignity, housing…