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Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 07:08:06 PDT
From: Blazing Star <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Denver: vouchers
A home, for the moment
Vouchers for homeless ease Denver's need for shelters
By Carla Crowder, Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
The motels are typically rundown, seedy even. Some are crime havens, so plagued by drugs and vice the city of Denver periodically shuts them down. But at 13 motels, most along East Colfax Avenue, the Denver Department of Human Services is one of the biggest customers.
Denver has spent about $750,000 during the past 21/2 years on motel vouchers for hundreds of homeless families.
There's no end in sight to this costly Band-Aid. The city has few family emergency shelters, and no new ones are planned.
Most Denver neighborhoods are on the upswing and would not welcome a homeless shelter among the restored Victorians.
"If we could open one large shelter,
we'd go so much further in getting people on their feet, and their children
to stay in school," said Karen
Miller-Hide, administrator of the homeless and general assistance program for Denver Human Services.
"But we can't. We're throwing them hither and yon out to various motels. It's not helping the families. It's certainly not helping the children. And it's a tremendous waste of money."
Miller-Hide is in charge of approving city funds for the vouchers. Yet she dislikes the system: "It bothers me tremendously."
Like others who work with homelessness issues, Miller-Hide believes motels are the lesser of two evils. "It's far better than having to spend the night in danger, in their cars, on the streets," said Nan Moorehead, community liaison at Denver Human Services.
Two of the motels the city uses, Sand and Sage and the Westerner, have previously been shut down in police raids but reopened, apparently under new management.
Many are the kinds of places with signs tacked on the check-in desks, signs you'd never see in a Holiday Inn: No drugs. No guests in rooms. You owe me money, I owe you no phone.
Others are a little old, but tidy. Like the Blue Spruce Motel, 12500 E. Colfax. Last week, people using city vouchers filled all 14 rooms.
"I live over there at 160," said Shirley Daniels, 31, a certified nursing assistant. As her three young daughters amused themselves by swinging on the lobby door, Daniels talked about losing apartments because she couldn't afford the rent. "There's just not enough available, affordable housing," she said. Most recently, she'd doubled up with her sister. On Aug. 24, her sister told her and her girls, ages 9, 7, and 2, that they were no longer welcome.
Daniels said she prefers motels to homeless shelters because she works atleast 50 hours a week, sometimes odd hours and too late to get a place at ashelter. "You have to call three times a day to those places and they all say, 'Wedon't have a room, we don't have a room."'
The city-issued vouchers are
supposed to be limited to about four days per family. But families at the
Blue Spruce said it was easy to get that
extended. Some families, like the Daniels, have tried to get into shelters and cannot.
However, officials say that other
people prefer motels. There are fewer rules, and they can do things banned
in supervised shelters -- like
drink and take drugs.
Once, a shelter worker went to
a motel to take extra food to a homeless family. He found the four children
locked in the motel bathroom while
their mother entertained a guest, Miller-Hide said.
"There's a pipeline out there, a network. People get the word that Denver is homeless friendly and has this voucher system," Miller-Hide said. "They get off the bus and demand a motel voucher."
And they have children. "We've got our back against the wall," she said. As questionable as the system is, it keeps homeless women and children put of the public eye. Because of the vouchers, homeless families are "not as visible as you might expect in Denver," Moorehead said.
A metrowide Family Emergency Services task force is trying to find a place for a permanent shelter. "It has cost a lot more to put people up in motels than it would to have a full-time emergency shelter," said Tracy D'Alanno, director of the Colorado Coordinating Council on Housing and the Homeless. Also, D'Alanno pointed out, at a single location, social workers would be on hand to help homeless people straighten out their lives and make sure their kids are in school.
But neighborhoods and city council members don't exactly embrace the thought of a new homeless shelter near them.
Several council members say their
districts already do their share. "I think it's a difficult problem,
and I have no answer for you. There's only so much in my district that
we can handle without wrecking the district," said Councilwoman Polly Flobeck,
whose ward includes the south
side of East Colfax Avenue.
"One of the troublesome areas in my district is those motels. And they are seedy. Most of them are seedy. And badly run," Flobeck said. Councilman Dennis Gallagher, who represents much of northwest Denver, said he'd like to see an audit of shelter beds to find out whether they are evenly distributed throughout the city.
"It's my distinct impression
that the north bears an unfair burden, Gallagher said. "When I see other
parts of town bearing their share of the
burden, I might be open to it."
Denver City Council President Allegra "Happy" Haynes wouldn't say whether she'd support a shelter in her northeast Denver district. Instead, she suggested that more permanent low-income housing might be a better use of money. "The question is whether or not that is the right approach ... whether you spend the capital dollars for a shelter, or do we want to bite the bullet and spend the dollars for transitional housing, something more permanent?" Haynes asked.
This crunch isn't unique to Denver. "We do exactly the same thing here," said Lyle Schwery, homeless assistance coordinator for Des Moines, Iowa. Des Moines spent $1.7 million in 1998 to put up the homeless in motels and to reimburse missions for certain costs, he said.
Even Phoenix, with its mild climate, spent $126,000 on motel vouchers. "That's a problem we have," said Wayne Tormala, of the Phoenix Human Services Department.
Las Vegas counted 22,000 people in their last homeless census, according to officials there. There is not enough shelter space for women and children, but the city will not spend money on hotels, said Wanda Bonillas, emergency resource specialist with Help of Southern Nevada, a referral agency for poor people.
"They're out on the streets.
There are a lot of families that are stuck in vehicles or in the parks.
There is no money available for hotels, "Bonillas said.
August 29, 1999
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