Mayor Johnston Signs Emergency Declaration to Address Homelessness

Published on July 18, 2023

Today, on his second day in office, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston signed an emergency declaration to help 1,000 people experiencing homelessness get indoors.

This is the first step in the Mayor’s first initiative on homelessness, a citywide effort to help 1,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in Denver get indoors with urgency, compassion, and equity.

By embracing a strategic and urgent citywide approach that brings together a broad coalition of partners to house those experiencing homelessness, the declaration and initiative mark a significant shift in the way the City and County of Denver manages the homeless crisis. The city’s Emergency Operation Center and Joint Information Center will activate starting on Monday, July 24 to coordinate and manage the objectives and goals of this initiative.

“With a renewed focus on homelessness, we can make a real difference, and today is the first step in making that a reality,” said Mayor Mike Johnston. “Our city has seen a significant increase in homelessness over the past five years, and it’s clear that the incremental approach that we’ve taken isn’t getting people housed at scale. By issuing a state of emergency and renewing our commitment to a collaborative, citywide approach, we will leverage every resource and partnership available to support our neighbors on the streets and make Denver a city where nobody has to be homeless.”

To begin this effort, Mayor Johnston will implement the following actions today:

  • Declare a State of Emergency on Homelessness and activate Emergency Operation Center;
  • Dedicate 10 mayoral appointees to lead the implementation of the Mayor’s homelessness resolution plan and emergency activation;
  • Expedite permitting and construction timelines for homelessness and affordable housing projects;
  • Convene and collaborate with public and private landowners to identify, site, and develop city-owned and private land for supportive housing, mico-communities, and navigation centers;
  • Take immediate action to improve life for those living on the streets, as well as the businesses and neighborhoods surrounding them, by deploying trash, hygiene, and care services to encampments;
  • Immediately work to identify underutilized resources that can be deployed towards this effort;
  • Expand local, regional, state, and federal collaboration to leverage funding and resources for interventions and solutions to resolve homelessness;
  • Convene partners and coordinate system-wide efforts, and enhance current initiatives to improve pathways into housing from encampments;
  • Engage and mobilize a broad coalition of Denverites including unhoused people, service providers, city agencies, construction experts, real estate experts, landlords, labor, representatives from the faith community, businesses, and neighborhood groups to discuss, evaluate, and propose meaningful strategies make real progress toward helping unhoused Denverites access safe and dignified supportive housing; and
  • Launch a 78 neighborhood tour in partnership with all City Council members to meet with residents, visit potential sites, and work with communities to build trust and source feedback throughout the city.

Taking a housing-first approach, today’s announcement is the first step in a significant effort by Mayor Johnston to lead on Denver’s homelessness crisis in collaboration with partners from dozens of sectors.

The State of Emergency Declaration reads as follows:

WHEREAS, the City and County of Denver has experienced year over year increases in the numbers of people experiencing homelessness, an increase in those experiencing first time homelessness, and a tripling in the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness since 2019;

AND WHEREAS, the 2022 Point in Time Count, an annual survey of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January, counted over 1,300 City residents who were unsheltered and living outdoors;

AND WHEREAS, the number of people living unsheltered in 2022 was the highest number ever recorded in the City; 

AND WHEREAS, all indications point to these numbers expanding again in 2023;

AND WHEREAS, individuals who are living unsheltered and outdoors lack access to housing and basic services that all individuals need in order to live and thrive; 

AND WHEREAS, the large number of people living unsheltered in the City creates significant public health and safety risks due to the lack of available services and the associated impacts of encampments created in spaces that are not safe for habitation; 

AND WHEREAS, people who live unsheltered have higher rates of illness and shorter life spans;

AND WHEREAS, living unsheltered is a dangerous health condition for individuals; 

AND WHEREAS, incremental approaches to addressing the challenge of homelessness have not effectively reduced the number of residents experiencing homelessness in the City; 

AND WHEREAS, the need to provide shelter, food, basic health and first aid needs, and other supportive services to people living unsheltered is straining current City resources; 

AND WHEREAS, if the number of people living unsheltered continues to increase, the City’s capacity to shelter and care for homeless residents will additionally strain and will continue to exceed the City’s capacity;

AND WHEREAS, the City now faces an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that requires it to take extraordinary measures to meet the immediate needs of City residents living unsheltered; 

AND WHEREAS, the City has requested financial and other assistance from the state government as well as nonprofits and other community resources, including additional sheltering, food, and services; 

AND WHEREAS, the City anticipates requesting financial and other assistance from the federal government; 

AND WHEREAS, people and property are at risk based on the number of individuals living unsheltered and outdoors in the City, as described in the above paragraphs; 

AND WHEREAS the risks posed as described herein require preparation and arrangements for housing, shelter, infrastructure, and other supportive services to protect the health, safety, or welfare of people within the City described herein.

I HEREBY DECLARE, pursuant to the State Constitution, the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act (C.R.S. 24-33.5-701, et seq.), and the Charter and Ordinances of the City and County of Denver that a STATE OF LOCAL DISASTER EMERGENCY in and for the City and County of Denver now exists and is so ordered, authorized, and approved. 

BE IT KNOWN THAT the geographic area affected and to which this DECLARATION applies is known as the City and County of Denver, Colorado.

AND BE IT ALSO KNOWN THAT, I, the Mayor of the City and County of Denver, hereby advise the Governor of the State of Colorado and the population within the aforementioned described area that a STATE OF LOCAL EMERGENCY exists and that the Mayor of the City and County of Denver may exercise some or all of the powers allowed by the State Constitution, the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act (C.R.S. 24-33.5-701, et seq.), and the Charter and Ordinances of the City and County of Denver during this STATE OF LOCAL DISASTER EMERGENCY.

AND BE IT ALSO KNOWN THAT this DECLARATION authorizes the City and County of Denver, its residents, and its businesses to apply for assistance from the State of Colorado, the Federal Government, or other available resources.

AND BE IT ALSO KNOWN THAT this DECLARATION and STATE OF LOCAL DISASTER EMERGENCY will remain in force from July 18, 2023, to July 25, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. This DECLARATION will remain in effect for 7 days unless renewed or rescinded.