The floor of the Colorado Convention Center resembled a disaster-relief effort on Thursday, with volunteers in bright T-shirts scurrying across the room to various clumps of tables that were sectioned off with signs reading “Hep C Testing,” “Legal Services,” “Identification" and “Personal Care Items."
To many observers, the event was tackling a disaster: the more than 3,500 people living without homes in Denver.
Since 2006, Project Homeless Connect has represented one of Denver’s more innovative approaches to combating homelessness. Held once a year, the event brings together scores of service providers (such as Denver Health, the DMV and the Denver Public Library) whose representatives donate their time and resources to assist Denver’s homeless.
At Thursday’s Project Homeless Connect, more than 800 individuals showed up at the Convention Center to receive medical checkups, hygiene products, food, clothes and haircuts, as well as to fill out forms to apply for jobs, to replace lost or stolen identification and to contest outstanding warrants and misdemeanor charges in Denver’s “Homeless Court.”
The event — coordinated by Denver’s Road Home, the City and County of Denver, Mile High United Way and Regis University – followed on the heels of Wednesday’s announcement by Mayor Michael Hancock of the city’s new “Day Works Program,” which aims to hire up to 300 homeless individuals during the next year for day jobs like planting, cleanup and snow clearing and will pay $12.59 an hour. Participants, however, will be limited to earning $600 a year, with the hope of eventually connecting them to private-sector jobs where they would be able to earn more after filing with the IRS. At this early stage, it's hard to know how many will regularly participate in the program.
In any case, both efforts this week showed forward thinking and a commitment of resources by the city and other organizations to address homelessness in Denver. Certainly, they extend temporary relief to those who are most vulnerable and needy in the Mile High City.
But in the face of winter, as well as ongoing and controversial policies such as the camping ban and homeless sweeps, the question arises: Is this week an anomaly or a stepping stone to more permanent aid?