DENVER — City council members toured the area's largest homeless shelters earlier this week, and the trip was an eye-opening experience for some city leaders, including former Denver mayoral candidate Lisa Calderon.
"What stood out to me was the starkness and the really depressing environment," she said. "In my Facebook post, I showed rows and rows of beds."
After her tour of the facilities, the current chief of staff for Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca posted on Facebook Friday, writing, "We are literally warehousing people & calling it humane."
"I think we need to stop enabling our dysfunctional shelters system," said Calderon. "You're having people -- 200 and 500 people in a room sleeping side-by-side."
Calderon believes the city needs to focus on providing homeless individuals permanent housing without preconditions like drug or alcohol treatment.
"We need to take the shift away from the temporary shelters and to a housing first model, so that means people get homes regardless of whether they're sober or not; whether they're on the medication or not. Because once you're able to get people in the housing, you can stabilize them. Case managers can meet with them," explained Calderon.
That can be an expensive proposition, but Calderon suggested she and CdeBaca have an option to divert funds for that.
"We've asked the city for the actual cost of the sweeps, the cost of law enforcement, public works employees, equipment, private contractors, and we've yet to get an answer," she said. "We do know that if you add up all those salaries, and the time and equipment, that money could be directly going to people on the street by getting them off the streets and into homes."
In response to Calderon's post, Denver7 received the following statement from the Denver Rescue Mission:
"We recently gave a tour of Denver Rescue Mission to members of City Council and their staff. They saw several other organization's shelters on their tour. Denver Rescue Mission has been serving those experiencing homelessness for the past 128 years and will continue to reach out and help anyone who comes to us for help."
Calderon said CdeBaca doesn't immediately plan to propose anything regarding a housing-first policy to the city council, as CdeBaca's primary focus involving the homeless issue is trying to repeal Denver's urban camping ban.
Calderon also mentioned in her Facebook post that one of the shelters was not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. She said that highlights a more significant issue as many of the homeless are disabled and would need proper access as well.