Denver mayoral candidate Chris Hansen’s homeless plan calls for a reset
He wants to audit what’s working, and what isn’t.
State Sen. Chris Hansen’s approach to Denver’s homeless problem is notable for its lack of sweeping promises.
One candidate, Mike Johnston, said he would end homelessness in his first term. Kelly Brough said she would end unsanctioned encampments in her first year.
“I think there are promises being made on some of the other campaigns that are not realistic,” Hansen said. “I think the Denver voters are very savvy. I think they understand the complexity of the problem, and as mayor I’m gonna deliver achievable plans.”
One thing that he wanted to emphasize early on was being “really focused on very clear enforcement of the camping ban in Denver. We can’t have open camping in Denver and be successful.”
But he said there would be wraparound services for mental health and addiction treatment.
Hansen said his first priority would be to audit the existing homeless programs. Denver’s 2023 budget for homelessness is $254 million, roughly equal to the whole budget of the city of Lakewood. Hansen said it’s a transformative amount of money that doesn’t appear to have much impact.
“I don’t think we’re getting great effectiveness out of that level of spending,” Hansen said. He added that he would bring the budget skills he honed on the State Legislature’s powerful Joint Budget Committee to reviewing the homeless spending. “Really working to double down on the programs that we see are effective, and stop spending money on the ones that we’re not getting results.”
Hansen said he will fix what he sees as the city’s inability to connect services, shelter beds and safe outdoor spaces with people who need them. In particular, getting people drug and mental health treatment.
He called out two Texas cities for their housing-first approach: Houston and San Antonio, which have made permanent housing a focus, and successfully gotten thousands of homeless people off the streets, while clearly enforcing camping bans.
Hansen supports the city’s sanctioned outdoor camping as a temporary solution while investing and renovating the city’s shelters to make them more livable.
He said he also wants to focus on prevention, identifying federal grants and existing city homeless funds to help families at risk of losing their homes. And he said he’ll support preferential permitting for affordable housing to fast track the start of those projects.
Hansen noted that the homeless issue is dominating discussions he’s having while campaigning for mayor. And there’s a strong economic motive to address the problem, that the downtown core cannot recover from the pandemic exodus without addressing these issues first.
“Everyone I’m talking to in meeting after meeting around the city — it’s homelessness and public safety. These are the top issues,” said Hansen. “The city cannot work if we do not make rapid improvement on public safety and addressing the homelessness crisis.”
Homelessness is intertwined with public safety, and Hansen said “rebuilding the public safety department” was key to bringing businesses and people back downtown.
“I took my boys downtown on the 15 [RTD bus line], a couple of months ago, and we witnessed public safety problems on Colfax — a drug deal at the bus stop, and we got downtown and seeing the encampments. It’s heartbreaking as a father to see this,” he said.
Hansen said he would work to fill the many open positions in the city’s police department. Existing officers, he said, are having to work overtime, and that leads to burnout and more people leaving the department.
Hansen said recruitment and retention payments work, but he would also celebrate the work police do.
“I think if we can create that culture from the top down at City Hall, and as mayor, I’m committed to making sure we have a great public safety system that is highly accountable, highly trained, and can do the great job that our citizens expect.”