Hotel rooms

Some Denver hotel rooms meant to address homelessness remain empty

Even if you exclude the COVID sick shelter, there are vacant rooms that the city has already paid for.

DENVER — There are hotel rooms paid for and reserved in Denver for homeless people.

There are over 150 empty rooms.

That’s because people have to meet pandemic-related criteria to use them because they’re paid with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money.

“FEMA only allows us to provide non-congregational shelter to people who meet certain qualifying conditions,” said Denver Housing Director Britta Fisher.

These criteria are one of the following:

  • Over 65
  • Health condition putting them at high risk of COVID-19
  • Actively ill with COVID-19

“The people we serve with non-congregational shelter here in Denver are largely people over 65 and/or on oxygen,” Fisher said.

Five hotels are used by the City of Denver or the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

The vacancy rate is tracked by rooms for three of the hotels and by bed occupancy for two of the hotels.

For the three hotel refuges tracked by rooms, 303 of the 451 rooms were occupied as of Tuesday. This means that a third of the rooms are vacant.

Of the two shelter hotels tracked by bed occupancy, one is only for people with COVID-19.

The one aimed at people over the age of 65 or at risk of COVID-19, 92 of the 138 rooms are occupied on Tuesday. A third are empty.

The hotel-refuge for COVID-19 patients has 36 of the 191 beds occupied on Tuesday. Four out of five beds in this hotel are empty.

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“One of the facilities is ‘respite’ enabled, that’s what we call it. It’s for someone who is symptomatic or positive for COVID to get better, and we’re really lucky that this facility doesn’t isn’t widely used,” Fisher said. “As you can imagine, we don’t want to put people at risk in the same place as the sick.”

Even if you exclude the COVID sick shelter, there are vacant rooms that the city has already paid for.

“Every day we’re going to have vacancies at these motels,” said Cathy Alderman of the Colorado Coalition with the Homeless. “When we are able to move people around, their room becomes vacant and it may take us a while to turn that room around and make it suitable for another person to come in.”

Two of the hotel shelters have lower occupancy rates because they were due to close on Thursday when FEMA funding expired.

One such shelter is the Aloft Hotel in downtown 15th and Stout Streets. Out of 140 rooms, 42 are vacant.

Federal funds have been extended, and earlier this month the Denver City Council approved an additional $11 million (which will be reimbursed by FEMA) to keep the shelters running.

“Now we’re trying to rehire staff and reassess people to get into these rooms,” Alderman said. “There is a screening process and a referral process in place to ensure we are spending federal dollars appropriately.”

Another haven is the Comfort Inn and Suites near Interstate 70 and Quebec Street.

A few yards from the entrance to the shelter is Sand Creek, where at least one person was camping Thursday morning.

“We’re moving a lot of people from encampments to motel rooms, but again, they still have to meet the criteria of being high risk,” Alderman said. “Unfortunately, due to the nature of federal funding for the COVID response, we can’t just allow people to walk into these motels and say they need a place to sleep for the night.”

This type of shelter is different from housing for anyone experiencing homelessness.

One of the problems with the November ballot in Denver is referred question 2B. It is part of the city’s bond package. Number 2B asks voters to approve a $38 million loan, in part, to buy and convert hotels and motels into housing for people experiencing homelessness, regardless of the pandemic.

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