Shelter From the Storm

In trying to keep the streets safe, Denver almost made a clean sweep of its homeless providers.

If the shelters no longer accepted parolees, they'd wind up on the streets -- exactly where the city didn't want them.

And so Denver put the ordinance on hold for months while a working group of city officials, service providers and neighborhood activists hammered out a compromise that would move the new standards into Denver's Revised Municipal Code rather than create a licensing system. For the "faith-based facilities," that was a key distinction, says City Attorney Jim Thomas.

"It was the idea of being licensed we didn't like," says Brad Meuli, president and CEO of the Denver Rescue Mission. "It made us feel like we were part of community corrections." The shelters were also concerned that the original ordinance painted offenders with too broad of a brush. "It included everyone," Meuli says. "This revision basically deals with crimes against persons. Before, a DUI or even a traffic ticket came into play."

"We can all live with this version, which beats the heck out of the original," adds another provider.

But while the shelters are now on board for the revised ordinance, introduced as Council Bill 520 at Monday night's meeting, the measure still faces opposition.

In a letter to Webb, Pat Tuthill accused the mayor of breaking his word in abandoning the licensure approach. Other critics of the compromise claimed the shelters engaged in "political extortion" by refusing to accept offenders unless the ordinance was changed.

Speaking for a number of providers, Meuli disputes that charge. "Since 1892, Denver Rescue Mission has been providing services with no government funding," he says. "As a faith-based organization, we couldn't go out and say we're now part of the government." Nor could the shelters suddenly discontinue the additional services they'd been providing so many people for so many years, even though limiting their scope to simply providing meals and beds would have exempted them from the ordinance.

"The majority get involved in some kind of other services," Meuli says of his shelter's residents. "We want the neighborhoods to be safe. We want these folks to come into the facility, get off the streets for the night, and then we encourage them to get into our rehabilitation program."

With the compromise, down-on-their-luck parolees will still be able to get a hand up.

Gamblin considers the revised ordinance "a reasonable compromise between legitimate competing groups."

Monday's hearing will show whether those groups agree.

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