Colorado Coalition for the Homeless founder and CEO John Parvensky, who said he’s soon “riding into the sunset,” presided over the opening of a new supportive-housing and healthcare facility in Five Points on Thursday morning.
It’s the 22nd such project he’s launched, he said, and probably his last before retiring.
Every year, the facility will serve the healthcare needs of 500 people experiencing homelessness. Additionally, above the care center, the Coalition built 98 units of affordable and supportive housing.
This project is called the Renaissance Legacy Lofts and Stout Street Recuperative Care Center, at 2175 California Street — that was until the Coalition’s board decided to change it. Now the sign outside the building will read: the John Parvensky Recuperative Care Center.
The Coalition’s board members said he deserved the honor for turning a tiny one-room clinic into a $100 million-a-year operation over nearly four decades with the organization.
While the new facility is impressive, Parvensky said during the event that he believes more action needs to be taken.
“Despite what we’ve accomplished so far, there’s just so much more that needs to be done,” Parvensky said. “There’s still a thousand people on the streets who will call the streets their home tonight and another 2000 in emergency shelter.”
Parvensky said he appreciated the attention of the day, but wanted those attending to acknowledge that the work he was being honored for was really that of his staff, now hundreds of employees, from real estate experts to psychiatrists to caseworkers.
Despite Parvensky’s attempts to honor everybody he collaborated with, the grand opening turned into a celebration of him — a leader who has, at times, been a thorn in the side of the city, even as he’s worked closely with multiple mayors and City Councils.
He recalled former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, now a U.S. Senator, affectionately describing him as a “pain in the a**” at a similar event several years back.
Mayor Michael Hancock echoed Hickenlooper’s sentiment. After all, Parvensky has been an outspoken critic of some of Hancock’s signature policies addressing homelessness in the city — especially the urban camping ban that passed during the mayor’s first term. Parvensky argued it criminalized homelessness.
He warned City Council, a decade ago, that the urban camping ban, if passed, would backfire.
“We believe this ordinance will be counterproductive, forcing those without shelter further into our neighborhoods, further out of sight, making outreach and engagement even more difficult, and creating additional barriers to housing and employment for those that we are trying to help,” he said at the time. “We believe that the right course is to create real solutions to the lack of housing and shelter by creating and expanding emergency shelter, expanding access to mental health and substance treatment services, and developing long-term supportive housing resources.”
Many of those predictions came true.
“I’ve known John now for over 15 years,” Hancock said. “I always thought he was a pain in the a**. He’s absolutely still a pain in the a**, but you learn in this job that there’s some pains in the a** that’s worth tolerating.
But disagreement hasn’t stopped Parvensky from steadily working with the Hancock administration on multiple housing programs: opening an emergency shelter at the National Western Center during the pandemic, housing people in hotels and motels throughout the city, and building major developments like the Renaissance Legacy Lofts, in part with city funding.
The Renaissance Legacy Lofts and Stout Street Recuperative Care Center was built by Milender White, whose Vice President of Business Development and Public Affairs Albus Brooks served on City Council. Like Hancock, Brooks championed the camping ban, a defining policy for his time in office.
At today’s grand opening, Parvensky had nothing but kind words for Brooks and Hancock alike — and the sentiment was mostly mutual.
Hancock proclaimed Thursday John Parvensky Day in the City of Denver and gave him one of a hundred City of Denver coins that he has also given to presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, along with Stevie Wonder and others.
“No one has done more for us and for the people of our state than you have,” Hancock said.
One of Parvensky’s greatest skills has been working with his team to put together complicated affordable housing funding. These sorts of projects are notoriously competitive and difficult to complete.
“This development has four separate ownership groups,” Parvensky said. “Four separate investors. Four different lenders. It’s a $46 million dollar project funded by eight different foundations and 500 individual donors. There are four governmental entities that provided funding for the project and three different types of tax credits. It took actually eight legal teams to negotiate and put documents together to make this a reality. So putting a structure together like this is clearly a labor of love.”
The project comes as homelessness has ballooned in Denver.
Both Hancock and Parvensky will be leaving their positions with more people living on the streets than when they started.
There is a shortage of housing in Denver and the state. Emergency federal money for rent support will soon run out and even more people will likely become homeless.
At the grand opening, officials from all levels of government spoke to the need for swift action — in part, as a way of honoring Parvensky’s long life of service. Part of that is building much more housing for people of all economic levels.
“In the state of Colorado, we do not produce housing for everybody,” said Alison George, the state’s director of housing for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. “In the last 10 years, we’ve had a reduction of almost 40% in the last 10 years of housing production. That’s not just affordable housing. That’s all housing.
“Of course, we’re gonna have a problem,” she said. “We have to be producing more housing, serving more people. There’s a direct line from the cost of housing increasing to increases in homelessness in a community. Colorado is seeing that. Denver is seeing that.”
Parvensky, for his part, believes the Coalition he founded is ready for the task.
“I think I’m leaving the organization strong,” he said. “It’s ready for a new generation of leaders. I think we have them in place, and I’m excited to see what they’re able to do without my weight around their necks.”