DENVER (KDVR) — Denver’s various homeless shelters have the capacity to sleep 3,021 people, yet on most nights, shelter beds are rarely full.
“I think sometimes people have misconceptions about shelters,” said Rene Palacios, the director of emergency shelter services at the Denver Rescue Mission.
Palacios told the Problem Solvers he’s aware some homeless people believe shelters are crowded, dirty and even dangerous, none of which he said is true.
“I tell my staff I want it to be a place where people can close both their eyes at night and know we are going to keep an on them,” Palacios said.
Most Denver shelters now provide not just a bed, but free laundry services, cell phone outlets and lockers to keep personal items safe, plus free COVID-19 testing.
Perhaps most importantly, the model has changed to 24 hours. People are not kicked out in the morning and are not required to be sober to spend the night.
“Now we don’t allow you to actively use drugs or drink on site, but we will not turn you away and we will not check to see if you are sober,” Palacios said.
Denver shelter resident describes benefits
FOX31 met Toby Strickland, a self-described recovering alcoholic who has lived in various city shelters for the past year.
“I’m in the right state of mind and I want to move forward, not backwards,” Strickland said.
The 51-year old said he’s benefitting from having case managers who now work on site to help the homeless get substance abuse treatment or obtain vital documents, like a social security card, birth certificate or driver’s license.
“This place helps out in guiding me where jobs need to be at, where to look for a job,” said Strickland, who added he wants to be a forklift driver but first needed the stability of a consistent place to eat and sleep at night.
While Strickland has taken advantage of emergency shelters, city leaders admit there are nearly 1,000 people who choose sidewalk encampments each night instead.
“Each person has different reasons why something might work or not work for them,” said Britta Fisher, the executive director for Denver’s Department of Housing Stability, also known as HOST.
Main drawbacks with Denver shelters
Fisher said the city has recognized a 24-hour model that allows the homeless to come and go throughout the day and better serves its transient population.
Shelters do have three obvious drawbacks: pets, partners and possessions. They don’t allow animals, they’re usually designed for single people and they are limited when it comes to storage space, all of which are reasons why some people choose to live in sidewalk tents.
“There is still a lot of need and we are stretching those resources to get as many people housed as possible to keep as many people sheltered as possible and keep bringing people in from a housing crisis into housing,” said Fisher.
Rene Palacios said his goal is for the shelters to be a temporary solution, to help people get out of the shelters and into more stable housing, “There is hope. You are not stuck in this system and we are here with you….once people understand that there is a way out of this it really does give them hope.”
With contributions in reporting from Carisa Scott, Serena Ung and DJ Summers.