Denver Offers New COVID-friendly Housing Solutions for the Homeless

On January 9, the city of Denver, CO, announced new plans to help homeless people at increased risk of COVID-19 infections and complications. The goal is to keep the people off the streets and in safe and affordable housing. The city is using an array of buildings and facilities that would otherwise be empty for now.

One Man's Story

One man found himself facing homelessness in late December, At the age of 61, he was at an increased risk of complications if he were to become infected with COVID-19. The pandemic is raging through Denver's homeless shelters. This man used to be a heavy equipment operator, but he was forced into early retirement after having a stroke. He didn't have enough funds in his December Social Security payment to pay for the hotel room where he was staying. The owner of the hotel where he had been living connected him with the United Way of Weld County. That organization had just opened a new type of shelter for homeless individuals.

About the United Way's New Shelter in Colorado

The United Way of Weld County opened a shelter in an apartment building that wasn't occupied. The rooms are simple. They contain a folding table, bed, miniature refrigerator, microwave and two chairs. It's not a big room, but it's safe and warm. The apartment building is full of people who would otherwise be homeless. The rooms are for just one individual. The man said that if the place was open to renters, he would choose to live there. It isn't fancy, but it's comfortable and has what he needs.

About the Living Arrangements

The new shelter is in a building that used to be part of the Good Samaritan Society's Bonell Campus. It's located in Greeley. There are 30 rooms. All of them are for people who are homeless and are either over the age of 60 or have a chronic health condition that put them at an increased risk of COVID-19 infection or complications. The facility will be available through April 15. The campus also includes seniors-only apartments, an assisted living facility and a nursing home.

Typical Services Provided By the United Way of Weld County

When there isn't a pandemic, the United Way of Weld County operates an 80-bed emergency shelter during the wintertime. Due to the pandemic, the emergency shelter can only accept 39 people. Denver is currently renting 800 hotels rooms for people who are homeless or victims of domestic violence. Those rooms are for people who are at a high risk of COVID-19 infection or complications or who have been exposed and need somewhere to quarantine for two weeks. The city of Greeley, the United Way of Weld County, the Good Samaritan Society and the city of Denver partnered to help the local at-risk residents in need of shelter for the winter.

How the Organizations and Cities Are Paying for the Rooms

The cities of Greeley and Denver used CARES Act funds to pay for the housing. They also used funds to make required repairs to plumbing and to pay for the utilities. The federal disaster relief funds have helped pay for a portion of rent for some tenants and have covered the rent in whole for other tenants. So far, the communities and organizations have spent $8.4 million to renovate the hotel, pay for utilities and furnish the rooms. The officials expect many of the current residents to be able to leave after April 15 and move into local market-rate housing.

What Residents Think About Their Living Arrangements

One man reported that his health was improving. He has been homeless for 10 years. In 2016, he was in the emergency room 113 times. Before he was able to move into this shelter, he wasn't able to walk. His immobility was due to complications from alcohol use disorder. He has now been sober for about three months. He reports that he's feeling better and saving money for a security deposit on a different place.

Plans for the Future

Once the winter shelters close in April, the cities of Greeley and Denver will partner with the United Way to examine what measures are necessary for the homeless individuals in their communities. They are going to look at how many of the hotel residents are likely to move into permanent housing. They'll also look at how many will need financial help to do so.

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