City Unveils New Homeless Commission to Replace Problem-Plagued One

Encampments along Arkins Court, days before they were swept on July 13, 2016.
Brandon Marshall
Encampments along Arkins Court, days before they were swept on July 13, 2016.
A committee that advises the city on issues of homelessness has been revised and rebooted. Mayor Michael Hancock has announced the appointment of fifteen individuals to the Advisory Committee for Housing People Experiencing Homelessness (a full list of members is included below), which will provide the city with feedback and suggestions on topics ranging from shelters and work programs to housing opportunities for Denver’s most vulnerable citizens.

The commission’s re-launch has been in the works since last May, when the Hancock administration decided it was going to disband the previous, 43-member homeless commission and start over from scratch. That larger advisory body had its share of issues.

As we explained at the time, in 2004, the City of Denver convened the Commission to End Homelessness, a coalition of service providers, businesspeople, politicians and individuals experiencing homelessness tasked with creating solutions and advising the city on the complicated issue.

But the commission had been plagued with problems, especially after the group concluded its “ten-year plan to end homelessness.” Commission members told Westword they were never consulted about the controversial urban-camping ban before it was signed into law, and the group only learned about some of the large sweeps of homeless encampments in 2016 the way that most Denverites did: through the news. The lack of communication led some commission members to question the purpose and direction of the group.

According to Julie Smith, spokesperson for Denver Human Services, the new commission is meant to be smaller, and at least a third of its membership will consist of people who have experienced homelessness.

“I think the general consensus was that the old commission got a little difficult to wrangle or reach consensus from time to time because there were so many people at the table,” Smith says. “[This time] there is a very heavy focus on ensuring that we had a strong voice from people who have experienced homelessness in their lives. And it actually may be more than a third of members, because there are a few folks [already] included that are representative of regional or interfaith or neighborhood groups but actually also have lived experience with homelessness."

As examples of appointees who have experienced homelessness, Smith cited Indya Clark, who’s a case manager with the Aurora Housing Authority, and Brandi Raney, who's with the Aurora Federal Credit Union.

"We had a lot of good applicants. And one area that was difficult to narrow was service providers, because we have very passionate, strong service providers in this community,” Smith says. “It was hard to look at [some applicants] and say, this person has been on the commission since its inception [in 2004], and are we sure this is the direction we want to go in? When we looked at service providers, we tried to reach across the whole [spectrum] — so instead of having five people that provide shelter, we tried to also look at youth, women and families, veterans, and how we bridge it out further beyond one area of service."

Unlike the old the commission, the new group doesn't include city council members, and a chairperson has yet to be selected; Smith says that the commission members will determine its internal structure once they start meeting later this spring. The new commission will report to Denver’s Road Home, a city agency that deals with homelessness, and from there, Road Home employee Chris Connor will report to the city’s Housing Advisory Committee, which has been rolling out Denver’s Five Year Housing Plan (which recently doubled in size, to $30 million in city funds annually).

"There's still a lot to work out with the committee and its structure, and how they'll report, that hopefully we'll see coming out of these first few meetings," Smith says. "We have a very diverse committee now in terms of experience and who they represent and how they approach this issue. So it will be interesting to see how they work together moving forward."

A full list of the newly appointed members of the Advisory Committee for Housing People Experiencing Homelessness is below:

• Caroline Barajas, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Department of Veteran Affairs
• Sara Baris, Senior Manager of Planning and Analysis, Denver Public Schools
• Billie Bramhall, President, Bramhall & Associates
• Indya Clark, Case Manager, Aurora Housing Authority
• Will Connelly, Executive Director, Metro Denver Homeless Initiative
• Haroun Cowans, CEO and Executive Director, Impact Empowerment Group, Inc.
• Ilyas El-Amin, OneHome Families Coordinator, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
• Clayton Gonzales, Director for Programs, Urban Peak
• Randle Loeb, First Unitarian Church of Denver
• Cuicatl Montoya, Peer Navigator, Denver Public Library
• Dwayne Meeks, Resident Services Coordinator/Case Manager, Mercy Housing, Inc.
• Brad Meuli, President and CEO, Denver Rescue Mission
• Brandi Raney, Financial Service Representative, Aurora Federal Credit Union
• Michael Sinnett, Vice President of Shelters and Community Outreach, Catholic Charities Denver
• Maria Sierra, Family Advocate, Mile High Ministries