We need to talk about Denver’s homeless problem.
Last week, I visited the central branch of the Denver Public Library for the first time in a while. I’d heard what it had evolved into, but nevertheless was shocked. The main floor has turned into a shelter. I’m all for libraries being a refuge — but as its primary purpose?
The next day I drove through Curtis Park. Encampments filled and surrounded Sonny Lawson Park. (They have since been cleared.)
Later in the week, the Denver Post had a cover story about a Hepatitis A outbreak among the homeless population. No surprise here; viruses spread when masses of people live rough, without proper sanitation and hygiene.
According to the article there are approximately 5,000 homeless individuals in the metro area. If we know the scope of the problem, why aren’t we effectively dealing with it? Is housing or treating 5,000 people that much of a challenge?
I readily admit to having no expertise in this area. But I do know that the situation as it stands is both a public health hazard and an economic downer: Civic Park should be a crown jewel for Denver tourism. Instead, it’s part shanty town.
• Build apartment blocks comprised of single room occupancy units, with a first-floor area providing the social services of a shelter;
• Coordinate efforts across metro area municipalities, so that populations aren’t merely moved but addressed and helped;
• When the mayor goes overseas to promote trade, visit with those cities’ social services departments and learn what they’ve done; many cities in Continental Europe don’t have the homeless problem that US cities do; and
• A comprehensive approach is required. Individual missions and churches do incredible work, and should be commended, but the problem is beyond piecemeal solutions. The city must step in.
How to finance all this? Impose a small fee on each luxury development going up. With the cranes dotting the city’s skylines, the funds should be collected in no time.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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