With showers, sidewalk storage units and beds instead of floor mats, Denver has opened three new homeless shelters that try to provide a more welcoming option for those seeking to come in from the cold. It’s even taking steps to find shelter for pets that often can’t accompany their homeless owners.
The moves give the city and its partners more flexibility in providing temporary shelter to the needy while offering a few more options to those struggling without a home.
At 6:15 on a recent morning, Freddy Cameron sat on a lower bunk at the Holly Center for men waiting for a bus to take him from the shelter in northeast Denver to the Denver Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Community Center downtown. Behind Cameron, 54, was a cavernous room containing 228 beds, the gray-painted frames unscarred by use.
The surroundings are a far cry from The Salvation Army’s Crossroads shelter, where he slept on a mat before the Holly Center’s opening in November.
“This is a lot better. You’ve got beds,” Cameron said. “I like this shelter.”
The center is one of three facilities opened recently that have boosted the number of available shelter beds in Denver from 1,454 last year to about 1,800 today, said Julie Smith, spokeswoman for Denver Human Services.
More beds are available through church organizations and other partners that provide space on an as-needed basis. City-owned recreation centers can be pressed into service when needed.
The Holly Center is operated by the Denver Rescue Mission, one of the nonprofits that works with the City and County of Denver to provide shelter for those in need. The city has opened another new 40,000-square-foot facility near 48th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard that accommodates 300 men and replaces the Peoria Emergency Overflow Shelter.
It, too, has beds instead of mats and is the first city-owned permanently sited shelter. The Peoria E-Shelter building is being converted to a 911 communications center.
In the new building, charging stations are available, and showers and other improvements will be made throughout 2018.
“In the past, we had leased a building, which limited our ability to make improvements and other changes,” Smith said. “Having a space that is owned by the city allows us to build out the shelter to best serve our guests.”
Those who spend nights at both Holly and the new city facility, which has not yet been named, meet at the Lawrence Street Community Center, where they have supper before boarding buses paid for by the city to travel to the shelters.
In the morning they are bused back to the community center where they can have breakfast.
Juan Carlos Medina, 52, who was staying at the Holly Center, said the arrangement makes it easy for him to go to work downtown, where he has a part-time job installing sheet rock and carpeting.
Catholic Charities’ new Samaritan House Women’s Shelter opened in October and is now Denver’s largest women-only shelter providing overnight accommodations to up to 100 women nightly. The facility also has 50 beds for longer-term stays.
This year the city has also taken some steps to eliminate barriers that have kept some of the homeless from using the shelter system, Smith said.
“We do have some common barriers presented to us, like not being able to stay with a spouse, having mental health concerns about staying in a large group setting, not being able to take in a non-service animal to the shelter, or not having a place to store large or bulky items.”
Storage space at St. Francis Center, a day shelter, has been expanded for personal belongings. And the city has added sidewalk storage units along Lawrence Street and Park Avenue West.
Shelters already allow service animals, and the city has formed a partnership with the Denver Animal Shelter to provide two weeks of boarding for a pet when someone is experiencing homelessness and needs shelter.
“We have worked hard with the provider community to address a lot of the barriers we’ve heard from people experiencing homelessness who do not regularly access our shelters and have tried to make these new shelters more modern and accessible,” Smith said.
One persistent gap in service remains, she added. “We do not have a provider partner to operate a shelter program for couples.”
The city does work with the Volunteers of America, which operates a Colfax Avenue motel that provides temporary shelter for individuals and families. The Family Motel reserves 30 rooms for families and single women who receive a voucher from the city for up to a 21-night stay. Another 10 rooms are reserved for those recuperating from medical problems, with two men, or two women per room.
Some of the homeless avoid the shelters, saying they are unsafe, dirty and breeding grounds for illness and bedbugs.
Denver’s Road Home, which works with service providers to administer coordinated shelter, outreach and other services for the homeless, has street outreach teams as do other providers. They seek out those on the street and offer them shelter and other services or provide them with blankets, hand warmers, gloves, socks and other items. All shelters require sobriety, banning those who are unable to comply with the rule.
Besides the obvious difficulties posed by intoxicated guests, many of those who use the shelter system find it difficult to be around those who are inebriated or stoned on drugs, said Chris Conner, interim director of Denver’s Road Home.
But those rules can be suspended when there is a real need to get people off the street. “We hear ‘I can’t go to the shelter because I am intoxicated,’ and that’s not necessarily true,” said Chris Conner, interim director of Denver’s Road Home.
“The discretion is really given to the shelter itself,” he said. “They have the option to take them in or if they require medical detox to make that emergency call.”