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Although Denver has long had emergency motels for the homeless, the city is now planning to buy a motel in northeast Denver and convert it into a homeless shelter.

“This building behind us represents the hope, the transformation that can take place on this property, and the transformation that is possible for the people who will call it their home. This transformation is fundamental to the future of our city and one Pillar for our economy Recovery and sustainability in the future, “said Mayor Michael Hancock at a press conference on May 6 in front of the Stay Inn (which had been converted into a Travelodge) on Peoria Street south of I-70.

The city plans to buy the motel for $ 7.8 million and turn it into a 94-room homeless shelter that can be used for single or double occupancy and also accommodate small households. Following approval from Denver City Council, Hancock administration officials hope the shelter will be operational by the end of the year.

In the past – and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – Denver has signed contracts with motels, either directly or through local nonprofits, to serve as emergency shelters. The motel shelters offer an improvement in privacy compared to meeting accommodation, as people sleep in individual rooms and can also lock up personal items. Motels are also better suited for couples and individuals with pets.

The city of Denver will sign a contract with a nonprofit service provider to staff and operate the shelter. And after two years as an emergency shelter for the homeless, city officials say the motel could potentially be converted to provide permanent housing.

Denver will pay the motel with $ 4.6 million in non-emergency federal grants and an expected $ 2 million in federal funding that Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Democratic Congresswoman for Denver, plans to secure. “The pandemic didn’t cause this crisis, but it made it much worse,” DeGette said at the May 6 press conference.

That federal funding and potential government sources aside, Denver plans to use funds from Initiative 2B, a November 2020 city voter-approved increase in sales tax that is expected to raise $ 40 million annually for additional housing and homeless services.

According to Britta Fisher, executive director of the Denver Department of Housing Stability, Denver also has to pay some “small adjustment costs” to turn the motel into a shelter.

Fisher calls the motel the “patient capital” for Denver because the city can use the building for emergencies and then convert it into a more permanent housing estate. “We can plan for the long term, and since there is more land there, we can think about how we want a housing estate for the future,” explains Fisher.

Denver currently has more than 2,500 beds in homeless shelters, including motels. According to Fisher, the city provides about 2,000 or 2,100 people with these beds each night. She estimates that the unprotected homeless population, which includes people living outside in tents, could now constitute an additional 1,500 people.

These people are at risk of being involved in cleanup operations by local authorities. Denver continued to disband the camps despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advising cities not to vacate the camps to avoid further spread of COVID-19.

There is one other outdoor option: Service providers currently operate two safe campsites for the homeless in the Uptown and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. When these locations close after their six month leases expire, the Colorado Village Collaborative nonprofit will set up secure campsites at Park Hill United Methodist Church in South Park Hill and at Regis University in northwest Denver for a total capacity of 100 people.

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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh works for Westword where he covers a range of topics including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves talking about New York sports.