Denver Purchasing Motel, Turning It Into Homeless Shelter

Denver plans to purchase this motel on Peoria Street near I-70 and turn it into a homeless shelter.
Denver plans to purchase this motel on Peoria Street near I-70 and turn it into a homeless shelter. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
Although Denver has long housed homeless individuals in motels on an emergency basis, the city now plans to purchase a motel in northeast Denver and transform it into a homeless shelter.

"This building here behind us represents hope, the transformation that can take place on this property and the transformation that is possible for the people who will call it home. That transformation is foundational to the future of our city and is a pillar for our economic recovery and sustainability going forward," Mayor Michael Hancock said at a May 6 press conference in front of the Stay Inn (which had been in turning into a Travelodge) on Peoria Street just south of I-70.

The city plans to purchase the motel for $7.8 million and turn it into a homeless shelter, with 94 rooms that can be single or double occupancy, and also host small households. After getting the approval of Denver City Council, Hancock administration officials hope to have the shelter up and running by the end of the year.

In the past — and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — Denver has contracted with motels either directly or through local nonprofits for use as shelters. The motel shelters offer an upgrade in privacy compared to congregate-setting shelters, since people can sleep in individual rooms and also lock up personal belongings. Motels are also better able to cater to couples and individuals with pets.

The City of Denver will contract with a nonprofit service provider to staff and run the shelter. And after two years as an emergency homeless shelter, city officials say that the motel could potentially be transformed to offer permanent housing options.

Denver will pay for the motel using $4.6 million in non-emergency federal grant money and an expected $2 million in federal funding that Congresswoman Diana DeGette, the Democratic congressional representative for Denver, is moving to secure. "The pandemic didn't create this crisis, but it's really made it a lot worse," DeGette said at the May 6 press conference.

Aside from that federal funding and possible state sources, Denver plans to use funds generated by Initiative 2B, a sale tax increase that city voters approved in November 2020 that is expected to collect $40 million annually for additional housing and homelessness services.

Denver will also need to cover some "small customization costs" for turning the motel into a shelter, according to Britta Fisher, executive director of the Denver Department of Housing Stability.

Fisher refers to the motel as "patient capital" for Denver, since the city will be able to use the building for emergency needs, then transition it to a more permanent housing establishment. "We can plan out for long-term, and since there’s more land there, can think about how we want to have a housing development for the future," Fisher explains.

Denver currently has over 2,500 beds available in homeless shelter settings, including motels. On a nightly basis, the city serves around 2,000 or 2,100 individuals with these beds, according to Fisher; she estimates that the unsheltered homeless population, which includes individuals living outside in tents, could account for another 1,500 people right now.

These people are at risk of being swept in cleanup efforts by local authorities; Denver has continued dispersing encampments despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising cities that they shouldn't clear encampments, in order to avoid further spread COVID-19.

There is another outdoor option: Currently, service providers are operating two safe-camping sites for people experiencing homelessness in the Uptown and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. When these sites close after their six-month leases expire, the nonprofit Colorado Village Collaborative will set up safe-camping sites at Park Hill United Methodist Church, in South Park Hill, and Regis University in northwest Denver for a combined capacity of 100.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.