This year marks the tenth anniversary of Denver's Road Home, the city's ten-year plan to end homelessness. But homelessness continues, and now Denver’s Road Home and Mayor Michael Hancock's office have launched a series of community meetings around the city to discuss DRH’s achievements and the current homeless situation, and get feedback from the community on a new plan to address the issue. The next meeting s scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 14 in the Ruby Hill neighborhood, at Garden Park Church, 1720 South Alcott Street.
Then-Mayor John Hickenlooper started DRH in 2005 as part of a federal push to end homelessness. The city's plan hit some snags in funding when Hickenlooper left the mayor’s office to become governor, but with the ten-year anniversary of the program comes new energy. The DRH office intends to have a new plan by late June, when the current ten-year plan ends; director Bennie Milliner says it is likely to focus on a shorter timeline.
The first meeting was held in the Ballpark neighborhood; the others will cover the four quadrants of the city. “We were very pleased to see a great turn-out from a diverse group of citizens at our first community input session," Milliner says. "We appreciate the Ballpark neighborhood agreeing to host our first meeting and look forward to hearing input from more citizens as we travel around the city to talk about the future of Denver’s Road Home.”
According to Dennis Ryerson, who lives in the Ballpark neighborhood and is a Ballpark Neighborhood Association board member, the first meeting was informational and probably helpful to the city, since officials received a lot of feedback from the 100 or so people in attendance. But problems related to homelessness have not improved in the area, he says, and the closing of Triangle Park and other spaces frequented by the homeless have just caused the homeless to spread out in the neighborhood.
The Ballpark Neighborhood Association has continually tried to address the homeless problem in that area, which has a majority of downtown’s homeless services. In November, the association challenged the construction of the Denver Rescue Mission’s new community center development, a 11,000 square-foot space that will include bathrooms, a kitchen and a courtyard for the homeless.
Ryerson says his neighborhood group's perspective on homelessness is sometimes misunderstood as being anti-homeless. “What we want to do is resolve conflicts and improve the quality of life for everybody, including the homeless,” he explains. “We want to help solve the problems for the homeless, but part of the problem we have with Rescue Mission expansion is that it’s just a band-aid. What the city needs is long term solutions, and I think what we’re hoping is the next iteration of the DRH plan will focus on those, but we’re skeptical.”
Ryerson says the Ballpark Association is still considering additional legal action against the Denver Rescue Mission's community center, which recently broke ground.
The new homeless plan will grow out of the community meetings, city officials say, as well as individual meetings with service providers. “We want the information-gathering piece of this plan to be driven by our conversations with the community, which includes our [Homeless] Commission members. We will also hold a series of smaller ,more direct outreach sessions to providers, like shelters,” says Julie Smith, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Human Services, which includes DRH. The Homeless Commission will be presented with the plan to review before its released to the public.
Upcoming meetings will be announced on DRH’s website as it becomes available.