Campaign Questions

By Tim Covi

With the Mayoral elections around the corner, we wanted to ask candidates for their opinions on an often under-discussed topic in municipal elections: homelessness. Over the past few years, Denver’s homeless population has sky rocketed, going from 3,954 people in 2007 to 6,656 in 2009, a 68 percent increase. Service providers estimate that it has continued to rise through 2010, something we won’t know clearly until the next Point in Time survey is released later this year.

While not completely solving the problem, Denver’s Road Home—the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness—has been instrumental in creating more housing opportunities and bringing much needed attention and resources to the homeless community. Mayor Hickenlooper was a pivotal part of garnering support and funding for the plan.

We asked every candidate two questions to see how they’ll approach the issue of homelessness. Twelve of the 14 candidates answered by press time. Additional responses might become available on our website at: www.denvervoice.org

 

If you become Mayor, what will you do to end homelessness in Denver?

Will you continue to fund and support Denver's Road Home? 


DOUG LINKHART

1. I will continue investing in services that help people who are homeless. One of the major points I’m making in my campaign is that I believe a city should invest in its people. I also believe in spending the city’s money wisely. For example, we know that for every $12,000 we spend on services and treatment to help the homeless, we save $40,000 in human services, emergency rooms, and public safety expenditures. 

I also intend to enhance job training and readiness programs for populations in need of extra attention, including the homeless, by working with nonprofit groups, businesses, and higher education.  As Mayor, I will also work with Human Services and nonprofit groups to prevent homelessness, partly by eliminating the cliff effect, in which people on public assistance lose all benefits when they start working.

2. Absolutely. Hubert Humphrey once said the moral test of government is how it treats those in the dawn of life, the children, those in the twilight of life, the elderly, and those in the shadows of life—the poor and disabled.

I disagree with those who say it is not the responsibility of the city to build housing for the homeless.  As Denver’s next mayor, I will support and expand the efforts of Denver’s Road Home because it’s the right thing to do and it’s money spent well.

 

KEN SIMPSON

1. I would continue the program and would involve all the stakeholders to see if the program could be made better for the homeless in Denver.

2. I would continue to support and get private funding for this program to help the homelessness problem in Denver, Colorado.

 

VINCENT MACIEYOVSKI

 1. I am very concern about homelessness in Denver; I am aware that the former Mayor talked about it on many occasions. I am not familiar with the details of his policy with this respect, but I continue to see people at the intersections panhandling as never before. I believe that the overall economic situation has aggravated this situation further still, and due to the city’s budgetary situation the outlook is worrisome for the near future, but as Mayor I’ll do my best to address this issue and try to find lasting solutions.

2. As I stated earlier this is a vexing problem that needs attention and I’ll do my best to seek permanent solutions on many levels like social support initiatives, affordable housing, mental care etc.

 

JAMES MEJIA

1. In today’s economic turndown homelessness is a critical issue needing the Mayor’s attention. I’ve learned that 47 percent of the homeless in Denver are families and 40 percent of the homeless are working. Denver has made progress but much work remains. As Mayor I will focus on transitional housing to help ensure that families and individuals receive timely, direct support. As Mayor I will focus on providing care for the mentally ill because mental illness is a root cause of homelessness. Today 1,500 people in Denver wait for mental health counseling including drug and alcohol treatment. As Mayor I will examine resources available through the federal government to address the population of homeless veterans in our city.

2. Yes, as Mayor I will absolutely continue to fund and support Denver’s Road Home. At the half way mark (to 2015) Denver’s Road Home has successfully convened a collection of nonprofit, community and corporate organizations to efficiently serve Denver’s homeless. Through DRH, housing for the homeless has increased, including housing for those who face homelessness as a chronic condition. Thanks to DRH’s coordinated outreach [and] employment and prevention focus, Denver is making progress on this issue. Denver’s Road Home allows a comprehensive solution to evolve from the efforts of many and I look forward to supporting DRH as Denver’s next Mayor.

 

DWIGHT HENSON:

1. First, I don’t think you can end homelessness in Denver because some homeless people [do] not want to get off the street. Second, we need to make some changes to the 10-year plan to end homelessness. When the 10-year plan to end homelessness came up the first time it was supposed to help the local homeless people, but it also invited homeless people from all over the nation. People from at least 20 cities and states send their homeless to Denver because the 10-year plan to end homelessness has been heard about. This needs to be corrected to end homelessness in Denver. Also the state of Colorado adds to our homeless population because the state has been putting our mentally ill people on the street.

Colorado must keep a mentally ill person for 72 hours before release, and will turn you loose if you have no insurance, cured or not. The state will first ask [family] if they will take their mentally ill family [member] back. Families say no because they can’t handle a mentally ill person in their home, so the state of Colorado will put them on the streets of Denver without follow up care. I do not believe we can end homelessness until we can correct these issues.

2. I’m on the fence about funding the Road Home because if we give money to [the] Road Home the money would not prevent homelessness. I believe money only promotes homelessness and does not prevent it. Homelessness is a big business. One shelter reported that they made $5.1 million a year. Also I would not fund [the] Road Home until the issues [mentioned above] are corrected.

 

CAROL BOIGON

1. During these tough economic times, many Denver families are one job loss or one medical crisis away from slipping into homelessness. As Mayor, I will focus on righting the economic ship and creating the critical middle-income jobs to keep families from teetering into homelessness and provide opportunities for the homeless to move into stable environments.

I will also support mixed-income neighborhoods. I believe we need to cast a broader net in looking at the inventory of affordable housing that should include new and old, for sale and for rent. I would spearhead mapping out human needs for affordable housing to match need with entire available inventory and then create a targeted plan based on the analysis. 

I will continue funding city programs to help the homeless, and I will support programs and opportunities to ensure the cause of ending homelessness stays in the public eye.

2. I strongly support Denver’s Road Home and its housing first approach. By providing a stable environment in exchange for medical and mental health treatment, this approach gives the homeless a step up and a fair shot at re-entering society. I have been working with metro area county commissioners for two years on a better approach to the mentally ill than jail, and [I’ve been] working as a board member on the Metro Crisis Services to address the needs of [the] mentally ill.

Though budget times are difficult, our budget is a moral document for our city—it determines what we consider important, and ending homelessness is important for Denver. I will work to continue to fund Denver’s Road Home as part of our moral commitment to those less fortunate.

 

THOMAS WOLF

1. I am a commercial property owner near ground zero for this issue (the shelters at Lawrence and 23rd), so trust that I am beyond familiar with the issue. I applaud Mayor Hickenlooper’s resolve to make headway with [the] Road Home, and recently celebrated with the group by attending their pajama party fund-raiser. On my website www.wolf4denvermayor.com, I have pointed out the cost/benefit proof of these programs as evidenced by other city’s successes, and have referenced a very succinct article from the New Yorker magazine written by Malcolm Gladwell titled “Million Dollar Murray.”

2. As Mayor, I would like to continue with the existing plans that have proven their benefit, but see what can be done to more proactively get the chronically destitute into these services. I pass one of these cases, as I am sure you do, on the way to work each morning, and I often think that if this human was a dog in the same state there would be an immediate humane response and instant care. I am not sure why we cannot marshal the same action for a fellow citizen? Another policy I would like to bring forward that is less medical-swat-team and more nudge is to simply adopt a law that keeps shopping carts out of our public domain. I am pretty sure the folks transporting all of their worldly possessions by this method are our prime customers, and will be more inclined to our services when their carts are retrieved by the owners. These proactive approaches I have suggested could basically be characterized as tough love or intervention, but the numbers show that inaction is more expensive than action and clearly the humane course. As your next Mayor this is another way that together we can make Denver stronger!

 

PAUL NOEL FIORINO

1. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to voice my concerns for the homeless and also for having such a media outlet that gives opportunity to homeless individuals.

First, I would try to keep families in their homes who face the silent, shameful tragedy of losing the American dream of ownership. Landlords who go into foreclosure impact their residents as innocent bystanders who have committed to a lease or a sense of security. Children are the victims in the evictions and how many now live in poverty, in a car, with a relative or friend? This is a silent group who have no voice. The wonderful church based facilities that serve the community (i.e. St Francis, Good Samaritan and Rescue Mission) all are at capacity. This is a growing community and it will take more of the community to step up and find more solutions to assisting the less fortunate. Collaboration, cooperation and private/public partnerships among agencies, nonprofits and caring individuals will give Denver a real opportunity to demonstrate a model for taking care of the growing population of homeless and those about to become so.

Ending homelessness is also a state of mind and until we realize that mental health plays a major role we will continue the catch-22. As Mayor I would find solutions through our relationships with other cities and states, because we are really all in this together. Who do you know that is on the verge of losing their job, health, home or lifestyle? Who are they that already have and are just getting by? I have seen families open their home to friends and relatives and yet what incentives can we give them for doing so. Neighborhoods could establish safe and secure housing with an emphasis on life training and cooperative activities that would benefit the larger community. For all that has been done in Denver we still have people sleeping on our sidewalks in front of major hotels, buildings and byways. How can we as a civilized city allow this? Do we have the real estate to help establish workable, equitable and sustaining solutions? Are our neighbors willing to see that it could happen to them at any time and if it did they also would not be ignored or forgotten?

2. This is a concern for us all and I hope to build on the plan to bring homelessness to a realistic place for ending it. I will continue and expand the possibilities for Denver’s Road Home, because we all need to call someplace home when we get off that road of despair, fear and fate.

 

THERESA SPAHN

 1. As Director of the Colorado Office of the Child’s Representative I worked closely with the United Way on a number of issues involving children who had aged out of the foster care system. One of those issues was homelessness, including working with LGBT youth who had run away from their homes. I am a strong advocate of helping the homeless and I will continue that advocacy as Denver’s next great mayor.            

I fully support Denver’s Road Home and I believe that it is the greatest tool Denver has to combat homelessness. Denver’s Road Home helps organizations throughout Denver combine resources and combat homelessness. The partnership with the Mile High United Way and various other organizations are key to the continued success of the initiative. Half of Denver’s Road Home budget comes from partnerships and grants. I can assure you that I will be on the front lines helping to raise awareness and money for the initiative. This year, the 6th annual PJ Day raised almost $1 million. I believe that we can double that amount next year. By continuing to draw attention to the homeless problem and gathering additional resources, we can end homelessness in Denver.

2. Absolutely [I will continue to fund and support Denver’s Road Home]! In 2005, Hickenlooper appointed the Commission to End Homelessness and created Denver’s Road Home Initiative, the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. Six years into the plan, Denver’s Road Home initiative has become a nationally recognized model for ending homelessness. We have already reached out to Denver’s Road Home and they are extremely motivated to maintain the momentum Governor Hickenlooper generated. We are excited about Road Home’s progressive ideas, like the New Energy Jobs Partnership, that would create sustainable jobs through residential energy improvement loans. We are also very pleased with the initiative’s results in decreasing panhandling along the 16th Street Mall and the continued development of affordable housing. I want to continue Governor Hickenlooper’s legacy of working with the homeless by striving to completely eliminate homelessness in Denver.

Currently, funding for Denver’s Road Home does not come from the City’s general fund. Half of the funding comes from mill levy revenues that are dedicated to the Denver Department of Human Services, and the other half comes from federal grants and partnerships with the Mile High United Way. The funding streams for Denver’s Road Home help the initiative resist budget cuts as the city looks to find solutions to the budget deficit. However, with more funding, Denver’s Road Home can reach and help more families and victims of the recession—so increasing funding through partnerships and taking advantage of additional federal grants must be a priority. By helping the initiative raise more money through partnerships and grants, we can make Denver’s Road Home the most successful homeless initiative in the nation.

 

MICHAEL HANCOCK

1. I grew up in northeast Denver in a big family without much money. We lived in public housing and at times we were hungry and cold, even homeless at one point in our lives. Because of these experiences, I recognize that Denver’s homeless are real people—moms, dads, sisters and brothers—who deserve to be treated with respect. As the next mayor of Denver, I will use my own life lessons to continue to address homelessness and ensure our residents have the resources, including access to affordable housing, education, job training, and health services, to lead healthy and productive lives.

I have a special understanding of what a city can do to help a child, and how important our schools and non-profits are to preventing homelessness. Today, the average age of our homeless population is 9 years old, and within the Denver Public School system alone there are 1,500 homeless students. This is simply not acceptable, and as mayor I will continue to dedicate sincere attention and efficient resources to keep our children and families from falling into desperate situations.

This will be no easy task, especially in these extremely tough economic times. I will maximize opportunities for city government to work with faith-based organizations, non-profits and businesses to maintain the safety net as best we can. As mayor, I will focus on working with these groups to find creative and innovative solutions to support program services and communities in need. We will work with stakeholders, not only within Denver, but also regionally to provide cross-jurisdictional services, and ensure struggling families and neighbors are connected with these services.

Finally, it is critical that we proactively address the various causes of homelessness. I am a firm believer in the saying, “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Formerly the CEO of Denver’s Urban League affiliate, I have created and driven nationally recognized job training programs. Partnering with large employers like AT&T and Comcast, we trained young men and women for high-tech jobs. Providing good job opportunities, affordable housing, excellent schools, and quality health care and mental health services will be among my highest priorities as mayor.

As mayor, I will continue Denver’s Road Home programs. The overall short-term goals of providing temporary shelter for homeless and long-term goals of providing job training and employment opportunities have been successful. In the first five years, the city has developed over 2,000 units of affordable housing, connected over 3,000 homeless people with employment, prevented over 2,000 families and seniors from becoming homeless, and reduced chronic homelessness by over 60 percent. Panhandling, overcrowded shelters and a lack of affordable housing are issues that still need attention.

The mayor’s duty as a community leader is to drive attention and resources to the issues and solutions surrounding homelessness. As mayor, I will continue to highlight the actions, goals and partners of Denver’s Road Home program, ensuring that we are garnering feedback from the stakeholders and organizations involved. Every successful program needs benchmarks to evaluate progress and successful outcomes. Only then can we understand where our successes are and improve our shortcomings.

 

ERIC ZINN

1. My campaign focuses on three primary things: jobs and education, health and sustainable living, and building a strong sense of community spirit and civic pride. Each of these three aspects of my campaign’s platform directly influences the steps I will take to reduce homelessness in Denver.

With regard to jobs and education, I will give Denver’s homeless adults and teens the skills, education, and retraining they need to find and keep jobs. Moreover, for Denver’s homeless children, I will ensure that these most unfortunate among Denver’s residents receive the help and guidance they need to get into and remain in school.

With regard to health and sustainable living, I will first provide Denver’s homeless with that most basic of their health needs…providing them with permanent, affordable housing. I will also ensure that Denver’s homeless, especially its homeless children, receive healthy meals and early access to the medical attention they require, with the goal of reducing their reliance on our most expensive emergency medical services. Providing this early medical attention includes steering those homeless individuals requiring treatment for mental illness and substance abuse to the many public and private agencies throughout the City that cope with these medical conditions.

Finally, with regard to building community spirit and civic pride, I will foster a heightened sense of community knowledge and caring regarding Denver’s homeless population, with the goal that all of Denver’s residents are fully engaged in the effort to end homelessness in the City. Denver’s homeless are a part of our community and a compassionate Denver must feel and care for all its residents. I firmly believe that building community awareness of homelessness in Denver must begin in our neighborhoods, because it is in our neighborhoods and among our residents that the solutions to Denver’s homeless problem will be found.

2. When I’m elected Mayor, I will continue to fund and support Denver’s Road Home campaign. The most important aspect of this campaign, I believe, has been the community awareness and focus this program has placed on the issues and concerns facing Denver’s homeless population. Through this community awareness, I believe that Denver’s Road Home campaign has sought to provide a coordinated program and effort among Denver’s public and private institutions and its residents to address the myriad problems facing Denver’s homeless.

In supporting Denver’s Road Home campaign, however, I believe that that campaign, like all other governmentally sponsored programs, must be constantly reviewed and updated to take account of new information, trends and ideas regarding the program’s results, effectiveness, and goals. For instance, I believe that the campaign should increasingly focus its resources and efforts on the necessary steps to be taken to prevent homelessness among Denver’s residents in the first instance. These increased efforts include identifying early on those Denver households that are most at risk of falling into homelessness and providing those households with the short-term rental and utility service assistance they may need.

I also believe that Denver’s Road Home campaign must make greater use of the resources, knowledge and skills of the architectural school at the University of Colorado at Denver and of Denver’s architects, builders, and lenders, engaging all of them in the process of creatively designing, building, and financing affordable and sustainable housing throughout the City.

Finally, I believe that Denver’s Road Home campaign must make greater use of the voice of Denver’s homeless. Having experienced homelessness first hand, Denver homeless can share their experiences and insights to help find solutions to homelessness in Denver. Denver’s homeless must be included in every step of the decision-making process. Denver’s homeless must be heard. We must listen.

 

CHRIS ROMER

1. I will complete the vision of Mayor Hickenlooper to end chronic homelessness in Denver. Denver’s Road Home, the manifestation of that vision, must have the resources, community support and civic leadership necessary to complete its ambitious goal.

I will build upon the framework of what the city has already successfully done by bringing thousands of people off the streets, helping those in need and saving valuable city resources. To help people build a stable life, housing assistance must be our first priority followed by employment services, mental and substance abuse counseling, and case management. Through effectively focusing the efforts and resources of our nonprofit, religious and governmental organizations, we can get men, women and children off Denver streets, into housing and on to a better life.

2. As mayor, I will fully support Denver’s Road Home (DRH) and commit the resources necessary to ensure its vision is completed. With five years left in the 10-year plan, much work remains to be done. DRH has provided for the homeless thousands of new housing units, streamlined services and helped connect them with over 5,000 jobs, but hundreds of chronic homeless men and women live in Denver and 47 percent of homeless families include children. We must expect more of city government, nonprofits, religious institutions and business in the remaining five years to ensure that DRH completes its critical mission.

 

JEFF PECKMAN

1. I will build on the success of Denver’s Road Home by adding even more innovative programs for dealing with the multi-faceted problem of homelessness. The comprehensive plan I have for economic development will also increase funding available from the public and private sectors.

We need to think even bigger, aim even higher, and accelerate the progress to achieve DRH goals even sooner than planned. Every day and night of homelessness is horrible. Each of these people is a treasure. The success of the CIDA project in South Africa is an example of quickly achieving miraculous success starting with nothing but inspiration, imagination, innovation, conviction and persistence. Every homeless person and homeless assistance supporter needs to learn about CIDA at  http://www.extracampaign.org/

In 1988, I was living in Washington D.C. and [was] confined to a bed for six weeks with an injury. I wondered what a homeless person would do in my condition and it was disturbing. So I drafted a proposal combining provisions of the Stewart B. McKinney Act of 1987 with mandates of the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1988, to address homelessness on a big scale. It created some momentum but Congress changed the law to drastically reduce the opportunities for the homeless.

I was still living in D.C. when homeless assistance advocate Mitch Snyder took his life in July 1990. I never forgot my commitment to helping the homeless and continue to share useful solutions whenever possible. I strongly endorse creative strategies by compassionate visionaries such as:

- Chet Sisk, Denver author, homeless advocate and manager of the Quality Foods for Everyone program, whose book “Think This, Not That,” is sold through Whole Foods to raise money for the homeless. His book teaches paradigm-shifting principles that he used successfully in homeless shelters to help break the cycle of homelessness. Chet has been an advocate for homeless people for 10 years and is currently helping to bring whole, organic foods to homeless shelters throughout the country.

- David Lynch, film director and founder of the David Lynch Foundation, has launched a major fundraising effort to help teach a highly successful stress-reducing technique to the homeless, at-risk youth, Native Americans, veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and prisoners. All homeless assistance programs will be more successful when homeless persons have the ability to rise above the negative effects of acute and chronic stress. Lynch has also attracted “star power” to his fundraising effort through support from other film directors and visionaries in the entertainment industry such as Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Russell Simmons, and Martin Scorcese. Mitch Snyder also attracted respected celebrities to his strategic initiatives for the homeless. But homelessness requires solutions from every direction and level.

A key part of my plan to end homelessness will be to highlight the staggering amount of fraud and waste in the Federal government. This is not about programs of questionable usefulness, but outright mismanagement, “missing” funds, and lack of proper accounting of allocated funding in many federal programs. For example, in about 2002, the Auditor General of the U.S.D.A. asked Congress for an additional $100 million to help find $5 billion that seemed to be “missing” from the U.S.D.A. budget. In 2002 U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told CBS News, “According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions” (Equaling about $4.5 billion for Denver taxpayers).

2. I will be a courageous and innovative champion bringing new solutions to end homelessness. We will succeed! I will enthusiastically continue funding for Denver’s Road Home, a highly successful model for homeless assistance, which can become much better. •