Among the many propositions that will appear on your November ballot is a question about funding for the homeless. Referred Question 2B asks voters to approve a .25% sales tax increase to come to $40 million for homelessness, including funding housing, shelters and services.
Keep in mind, this is on top of the existing budget for 2020, which allotted $97 million for addressing homelessness.
It would also be on top of the $11.9 million approved this summer for expanding and improving emergency shelters in Denver.
And the $31.8 million in federal money Colorado received this year to address homelessness. Considering the majority of Colorado’s homeless population is in the Metro area, that brings up a total of close to $140.7 million to address homelessness in Denver.
According to Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, there are currently 4,171 homeless people in Denver, a number that includes 1,089 individuals in transitional housing.
How has $97 million not been adequate to house just over 4,000 people? We’re talking about over $20,000 per person! It works out to the equivalent of a $1,666 monthly rent for one year. Even with soaring rental costs, $1,666 is plenty for a studio.
Here’s the problem as I see it: the City of Denver has no solution to homelessness. One would think the goal would be homes, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, otherwise the city would have long ago secured several blocks of apartments and rehoused those living rough. Instead, the city’s plan appears to be a carousel: That is, move an encampment from one block to the next, continuing to allow people to live in inhumane conditions, not to mention the sheer unpleasantness — and public health hazard — it causes for residents of these blocks.
Working in Capitol Hill, I’ve witnessed this tragedy for months, even years. There’s no way that I could vote for a tax increase — especially at a time when average- to low-earning families are struggling mightily — when the city has continuously failed to demonstrate that it is committed to and capable of housing homeless people. Where do these millions go? I honestly cannot figure it out.
As I’ve suggested before, I think it’s time to follow the continental European model. Outlaw homelessness. I know this is extreme, but a society should not accept thousands of its citizens not having basic shelter. Acquire blocks of mostly studio apartments. Staff each block with a social worker as well as basic humanitarian supplies. Most importantly, invest in reintegration and retraining programs, including job placement.
What baffles me, is it seems that along with the city, homeless activists aren’t pursing a goal of re-housing. They decry sweeps and focus their attention on the mayor building stable encampments. I oppose sweeps too, because they do not accomplish anything. But the goal should be housing, not more camps, even if they are safer.
Until the City of Denver can demonstrate that it has an achievable plan for housing the homeless, another tax increase would just be throwing good money after bad.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at email@example.com
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