Denver is looking for contractors to help unhoused residents once it gets them off the streets

The city also secured another hotel purchase.
4 min. read
American Sign Language translator Noah Blankenship helps Mayor Mike Johnston, as Johnston gives one of his regular updates on his state of emergency over homelessness from his office. Aug. 16, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

On Wednesday, Mayor Mike Johnston announced the city released a Request For Proposals (RFP) to help his administration make progress towards housing 1,000 people by the end of the year.

"We think about this as really a transition from planning to action," he said during a regular press briefing on the state of emergency he declared in his first week on the job.

On the campaign trail, Johnston promised to solve the city's homelessness crisis by creating "micro communities," places where entire camps - communities - could relocate together. The idea, he said, was to avoid losing track of people who may need regular contacts with case managers, and to keep people who rely on each other together.

Once people have moved off sidewalks and into these micro communities - be they hotels, warehouses or sanctioned campsites - they'll begin work with case managers to move into more permanent housing. He's said his administration also plans to bar camping in the patches of grass and sidewalks where they moved out.

Johnston also announced the city has officially purchased the Stay Inn, at 38th Avenue in Central Park. The finalized purchase adds an additional 95 rooms to his roster of potential housing. Former Mayor Michael Hancock and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette announced the city would try to purchase the property with $2 million in federal funding back in 2021. A city spokesperson said a lengthy grant process, environmental review and supply chain issues (which delayed repairs the former owner agreed to make before selling) caused the delay.

Late last month, the city announced it was close to purchasing the Best Western Central Park last month for nearly $26 million. That building has 193 units available for housing; one unit would be for staff.

Denver is looking for organizations that can help with two distinct needs.

The first is "site operations," the day-to-day stuff that ensures: sites are up to building codes and health standards; pest control; client intake, which will track residents through Denver's Homeless Management Information System; managing security; running laundry and bathing facilities; and fostering "positive relationships with the local community to reduce any negative impacts and address concerns," among other things.

The second is "supportive services," which includes "housing assistance, case management, mental health support, substance abuse counseling, workforce training, financial literacy services and community engagements."

Vendors for either track are required to present budgets that are "community-" and "trauma-informed," which means they'll let community members take part in decision-making and will take the "impact of trauma on individuals' lives and behaviors" into account.

Mayor Mike Johnston gives one of his regular updates on his state of emergency over homelessness from his office. Aug. 16, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Cole Chandler, Johnston's senior advisor for homelessness resolution, said this RFP is different than others the city has issued in the past.

It's open to multiple bidders, rather than one giant organization, an approach that could make room for culturally specific organizations to run micro communities geared towards veterans, LGBTQ+ residents, couples, etc. Up until now, Chandler added, only the Colorado Village Collaborative (which he founded) has run anything like this in Denver.

"We're excited about the opportunity to open this up and allow other nonprofit organizations to bid on it," he said. "We know that it's gonna take a whole ecosystem of service providers to really scale this effort related to micro communities and to provide key wraparound supportive services."

There is a lot of ground to cover, he added. The goal is to set up seven to 10 of these sites; each could house 40 to 100 people. He also said another RFP is imminent, one that looks for construction companies to actually build the spaces.

Johnston said he's hoping to construct micro communities in all 10 of the city's Council districts, and that they need to be close enough to food, far enough from schools and rigged for plumbing and electric. He added he's in talks with private landowners who "want to be a part of the solution." He wouldn't commit to any specific timeline on when the first might open.

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