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City of Denver backs out of deal to add more safe parking spots for homeless

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(The Center Square) – Denver Mayor Mike Johnston campaigned on ending homelessness within the city.

Now, the city is backtracking on one of the tools it has used to deal with homelessness by canceling plans to add more safe parking spots where homeless people could stay. The director of the program said it is now in jeopardy.

The city council voted this week to cut an existing $750,000 contract by $400,000 that it had with the Cc. In June 2023, the city council voted to expand the contract from $150,000 to $750,000. The extra $600,000 would add a third safe parking location by Dec. 32, 2023 and add the fourth safe parking location by Aug. 32, 2024. The previous contract ended Dec. 31, 2025. The new deal ends the program at the end of 2024.

Now, the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative will just maintain the two existing parking lots that are located in church parking lots. Each location allows for up to eight vehicles to stay overnight only.

“Shelter alternatives like safe parking play an important role in resolving episodes of homelessness in Denver,” said Derek Woodbury, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing Stability. “The Department of Housing Stability is committed to the ongoing operations of the existing Safe Parking Program at the two established sites. We are currently working on a contract amendment with the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative in order to continue these services while using our limited resources in the most effective way for the thousands of Denverites facing homelessness.”

Woodbury continued: “Throughout our contract period with the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, there have been challenges with spending and reporting. This contract is funded with American Rescue Plan Act dollars, and thus we have been keeping a close eye on spending to ensure timely expenditure of funds in accordance with federal requirements. Available funds from this contract amendment will support other citywide efforts to bring families and individuals inside. We are still working through specifics of what this will look like.”

Terrell Curtis, executive director of the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, said in an email to The Center Square that her organization appreciates the urgency the city has taken to address homelessness in the city and said it was long needed.

Curtis said the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative entered into the contract with the city in good faith and now 66% of the contract has been rescinded. She said that the two additional parking lots that were cancelled were much needed.

The contract ends in December 2024 instead of December 2025, which Curtis said “dramatically impacts” her organization’s ability to sustain the program.

Curtis said there were “challenges” in meeting deadlines for reimbursement and said the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative “got in a little over its head in order to take advantage of critical funding to help launch this important program.”

She said that all spending documentation was now up to date and the city had approved all reimbursement request and “at no time were funds misspent.”

Curtis said her organization was also told that this contract had been signed “with the previous administration,” and under Mayor Mike Johnston “priorities have changed.”

Curtis said her understanding is that the money from the safe parking lots is being used to pay for Mayor Johnston’s initiative to help 1,000 people experiencing homelessness get indoors.

“To be really frank, in my own opinion this is a little like robbing Peter to pay Paul, and leaves ~40 unsheltered people at risk (would have been nearly 100 over the course of a year had we been able to open additional lots),” Curtis said.

Denver has been the target of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to move migrants from his state to sanctuary cities. The first bus of migrants from Texas arrived in May 2023. By January 2024, Abbott said his policy had moved 15,700 migrants to Denver.

Johnston was elected mayor of Denver in June 2023.

The Denver Rescue Mission stated 9,065 people are experiencing homelessness in the seven-county Metro Denver area. The annual Point In Time Count taken in January 2023 stated there were 5,818 homeless people in the city. The 2024 estimate will be released during the summer.

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