At the end of the week, the 153 homeless Denverites living in an emergency shelter at the Quality Inn on Zuni Street, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, will be forced to leave their rooms where they have lived during the pandemic. A contract between the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which has been running the facility, and the City of Denver, which has funded it through emergency federal money, is ending.
Some of the Quality Inn residents have found permanent places to stay after they’re booted. Others are scrambling for vouchers, though a housing voucher isn’t the same thing as an available home. While some residents have vouchers they could use towards rent, they are still looking for a place.
A few Quality Inn residents will be relocated to other temporary individual shelters. And many face a move to the group shelter system, which is what the Department of Housing Stability, or HOST, and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, have been able to offer.
“As of today, more than 60% of the guests at Quality Inn have discharge plans to go to either housing or other protective action hotels; and all of the remaining Quality Inn guests have been offered a reserved shelter space and transportation, should they choose it,” said Derek Woodbury, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing Stability or HOST.
That leaves 40% of the people weighing whether to go to group shelters, back to the streets or find another option.
“People experiencing homelessness are best served in a shelter where they can receive case management, services and supports to assist them with attaining stability and pathways to housing,” Woodbury noted.
But group shelters have been shown to be less safe than encampments when it comes to COVID-19 transmission, and residents Denverite spoke with told us that the streets feel safer.
To stay out of group shelter — and ideally off the streets — many of these people needed help, according to a statement from the housing advocacy group, the Housekeys Action Network Denver, or HAND.
But there’s a math problem: There aren’t enough individual shelters the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and HOST have identified for all the people who want an individual room to have one.
So it goes in Denver, a city where home prices and rent have risen dramatically in recent years and where wages haven’t kept up.
The city is over 50,000 units of income-restricted housing behind what it needs, according to the Denver Housing Authority. A scarcity of rental units continues to drive prices higher. There aren’t enough individual rooms to allow all people who need individual shelter a bed — even in an emergency.
Not that there aren’t some beds. HOST says the city has enough group shelter beds to accommodate every person who needs one — if those beds were activated.
Last week, HAND asked residents and community members to come up with solutions.
The number one ask — encouraging the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless to renew its contract with the City of Denver and run the Quality Inn as a temporary shelter until everybody can find a permanent or stable solution — isn’t happening.
In lieu of that, there’s a lot Denverites can do to help out.
Residents are also in need of immediate shelter, noted HAND. “Let us know about any basement apartments, rooms to rent, cheap housing under $1000 a month — a number of Quality Inn residents could afford rent in this price range and are just looking for a place.”
The group is also asking members of the community to help pay for storage fees and bus passes.
Because many residents feel safer on the streets than inside the group shelters HOST and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless are offering, HAND is requesting camping supplies. Those include Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible tents, batteries, emergency thermal blankets, carbon-monoxide detectors, and hand and toe warmers, along with portable power banks to charge electronics and supplies for people camping in their cars.
Denver has an urban camping ban, prohibiting sleeping on the streets, that both HAND and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless have argued makes matters worse.
Looking for roommates or have an empty place? HAND also wants people to help identify any apartments, rooms or other cheap housing available for $1,000 a month or less, which many residents could afford.
HAND is looking for help giving residents rides from the Quality Inn to their shelter, along with people available to physically help residents move their belongings to their next place or into storage. Residents also need transportation to find housing, receive medical aid and get their mail.
For more information on how to get involved, HAND asks people to contact the group at 701-484-2634 or [email protected].
A spokesperson for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless told Denverite the recommendations from HAND are solid.
“I think all of those options are good ones and helpful ones, especially anything that can assist people with any of their needs while they’re moving,” said Colorado Coalition for the Homeless spokesperson Cathy Alderman.
The Coalition and HOST will have staff on site trying to assist with relocating, but largely, they will be transporting people to the places the organizations identified for people to move into.
“So if people are working with someone else to go somewhere else, transportation and bus passes, etc., will always be helpful,” Alderman added.
While the Coalition is not asking for specific support on the Quality Inn closure, the organization takes donations of items needed when new housing facilities open, Alderman said. That includes the Renaissance Legacy Lofts, which will open 98 units in October.
For more information on how to donate, go to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless’s website or call John Saint at 303-312-9639.
HOST also has some ideas about how residents can support Denver’s unhoused residents.
The agency encouraged people to donate to Denver’s public/private Housing and Homeless Services Fund, which is administered by Mile High United Way.
The agency also recommended people struggling with housing insecurity check out HOST’s resident resources online, which include information about affordable rentals, rent and utility assistance, property storage, and shelter information.
And as HOST tells it, the work in supporting the residents who will lose their current shelter on Friday is far from over.
“We recognize that this transition is a difficult one for those staying in temporary protective action shelters that were part of our emergency COVID response and are now coming to a close,” Woodbury wrote in an email. “Our service partners continue to work tirelessly to offer and provide individualized case management to all remaining guests.”