New Denver Mayor Mike Johnston commits to solving homelessness

Mike Johnston was sworn into office as Denver’s mayor on Monday morning. Today, less than 24 hours later, he was set to make his first major announcement about the city’s efforts to combat growing homelessness.

Johnston made the bold promise to end street homelessness in the city in his first four-year term in office. The primary mechanism then-candidate Johnston said he would employ to achieve that was “micro-communities” of tiny homes.

A major expansion of the nonprofit Colorado Village Collaborative’s tiny home village model, Johnston’s communities would have 10 to 20 tiny homes, community bathrooms and kitchen facilities and space for onsite mental health and housing support services. Johnston was eyeing public land for the communities but did provide any specific locations while on the campaign trail.

Candidate Johnston projected it would cost $35 million to build the 1,400 tiny homes necessary to end street homelessness, that’s a total that did not include the cost of staffing and services. Homelessness service providers were skeptical of that total and other critics wondered if Johnston was earmarking too much of the city’s funding around homelessness for what is supposed to be a short-term solution while more permanent supportive housing is built.

The number of people living unsheltered on the city’s streets more than doubled between 2015 and 2022, according to point-in-time counts performed in those two years. The 2022 count tallied 4,794 people experiencing homelessness in Denver, with 27% considered “unsheltered,” or living on the street, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.

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