(The Center Square) – The federal government will embed an employee to assist Denver in advancing its work to reduce homelessness.
Denver Mayor Mike Johnston was joined by two members of President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday to announce the city was joining Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle and the state of California as “ALL INside” communities. In addition to embedding federal workers in cities, the Biden administration is creating dedicated teams throughout to deal with federal regulatory barriers affecting housing, health care and other areas.
“With this new federal partnership, we can accelerate the quantity of work we can do, the quality and the services we can provide for the folks who need us the most,” Johnston said.
The dedicated federal official will remain in Denver through 2024.
“We recognize there are big structural challenges at play when it comes to addressing homelessness,” said Chad Maisel, White House special assistant to the president for housing and urban policy. “Number one is very simple, it’s a lack of housing that people can afford.”
Maisel emphasized the American Rescue Plan Act’s resources for addressing and preventing homelessness, which included $17 billion for 2,700 projects. He said the administration is working on new federal financing to develop affordable housing and eliminate zoning and land use policies preventing low-cost housing development. He also highlighted the possibility of office-to-residential housing conversion in some cities.
Embedding a federal liaison will help Denver and its nonprofit partners gain federal resources, according to Jeff Olivet, the director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
“The results will be there will be less red tape that makes it difficult for people to access housing, health care and other programs they qualify for,” Olivet said. “There’ll be less top-down planning and more grassroots community shaping of the work that we’re doing together.”
Johnston introduced Brandon Hughes, who said he recently left a homeless encampment in Denver and lived at the Best Western purchased by the city and staffed with services to assist residents. Hughes said he’s transitioning to sober housing and is working on completing his commercial driver’s license.
“I’m telling you I’m living proof,” Hughes said. “The Best Western is awesome. … I really want to say thank you to all you guys. I wish there was something I could do to help with what you’re doing. To see this in action was something different. To see them rally all of us and get us all on the same bus and for us to willingly go, was crazy.”
Olivet praised the closing of the encampment and the successful transition to temporary housing with services.
“Last month, rather than arresting people who have nowhere else to go, Denver offered housing – not handcuffs – to every person living in an encampment,” Olivet said. “Mayor Johnston is now showing the region and the nation that homelessness is an emergent emergency public health crisis that requires collaboration and creativity to combat. The work of ending homelessness is some of the toughest work around.”