Inside the city’s coronavirus contract to house people experiencing homelessness in a central Denver hotel

City Council is set to vote on April 13 on the contract with the owner of the Hampton Inn & Suites Denver-Downtown at 1845 Sherman Street.
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The Hampton Inn and Suites on Sherman Street in North Capitol Hill. April 10, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Updates with contract adopted by City Council.

Denver will pay a hotel up to about $1.6 million for rooms for especially vulnerable people experiencing homelessness -- as long as they don't have COVID-19.

City Council on April 13 approved a resolution allowing for the contract with the owner of the Hampton Inn & Suites Denver-Downtown at 1845 Sherman Street. Under the contract terms, the rooms are for "high-risk" people experiencing homelessness who have not yet been exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In an emailed response to questions from Denverite about the contract, city spokesman Alton Dillard said Denver was "working with our partners and public health representatives to determine screening criteria for rooms designated for protective action such as these. Our focus will be on populations that are at high risk, such as the elderly."

People experiencing homelessness often have underlying health issues and, because of the stress of living on the streets, compromised immune systems. Some are older. All those factors can make them more susceptible to falling seriously ill if they contract the coronavirus.

Under the contract, the city is to screen all guests for symptoms of COVID-19 "by checking each city guest's temperature on a regular basis. Any city guest exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or fever will be moved to other facilities."

City spokesman Dillard said "respite rooms" are being used for those who need to be isolated for medical reasons. The city has more than 100 rooms at other hotels it has been using for people who are awaiting coronavirus test results. People can also stay in those rooms while recovering. Dillard said the city and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless were working with the state to seek more hotel rooms.

In a letter sent Monday pleading for help from hoteliers, Hancock said the city needs some 3,300 rooms "to meet the anticipated need among people experiencing homelessness and the needs of our local hospitals in the weeks ahead."

The Hampton Inn contract was announced the day after Hancock's letter was released.

The Hampton Inn contract calls for the city to pay $60 each for all 115 of the hotel's rooms, whether they are used, through May 31. The city can terminate the contract early if the pandemic emergency eases before May 31, and also has the option to extend the arrangement by up to three months. Under the contract, the city would pay no more than $1,625,280.

Guests during the coronavirus emergency will not have access to common areas such as the pool and fitness room. The hotel will provide grab-and-go breakfasts and front-desk reception. The hotel also will provide clean sheets once a week and clean towels every three days, with those items dropped at room doors.

The city is responsible for security and for cleaning the rooms. It also has agreed to deep clean the hotel once the arrangement is ended.

City Council approved the Hampton Inn contract days after the city opened a new shelter in another step to address support for people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus outbreak.

On the shelter's first night, on Thursday, 627 men slept on cots at the National Western Complex, according to Brad Meuli, president and CEO of the Denver Rescue Mission. He said the facility had a total of 765 cots.

The Denver Rescue Mission closed two overnight shelters it runs to shift staff and men to the National Western Complex. Meuli said the previous night, 616 men were at those two shelters.

The new shelter is open 24 hours day and has more room at a time when people are being advised to keep six feet from one another in public places to try to cut down on the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement Friday, the advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud said the additional space was insufficient.

"There is slightly more space than the former men's shelters folks came from, but definitely not to the par of social distancing standards in this pandemic," Denver Homeless Out Loud said.

Meuli said city health department staff had reviewed conditions at the National Western Complex and determined they exceeded Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.  The CDC has issued COVID-19 guidance for homelessness services providers that recommends that in general sleeping areas for those who are not experiencing symptoms of a respiratory illness, beds or mats be placed at least three feet apart.

"Everything is about harm reduction and keeping people safe," Meuli said.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is providing health care at the complex that includes screenings for COVID-19 symptoms and, if deemed warranted, tests for the disease. Meuli said people with symptoms were sent to other facilities, which include hotel rooms and a shelter set up at a recreation center for more vulnerable people experiencing homelessness.

Cathy Alderman, the coalition's vice president of communications and public policy, said staffing the National Western Complex has allowed her organization to do more screening and testing. In a few days, she said, the coalition would have a better sense of the extent to which the coronavirus has spread among people experiencing homelessness.

With wintry weather predicted this weekend, Meuli said there were plans to work with the Salvation Army to temporarily reopen one of the shelters his nonprofit had closed in case more people were seeking a place to keep warm.

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