One of the most frequent concerns I, and my Jeffco counterparts, hear from residents is the growth of persons experiencing homelessness in our community. Residents cite criminal activity, overall safety, debris and property devaluation as their primary complaints when asking their governments to “fix” this issue.
As I have discussed in many different forums throughout my time as mayor, there is no silver bullet to “fix” this issue. However, in Wheat Ridge, we are diligently working to tackle this complex problem through a holistic approach, addressing both the needs of people experiencing homelessness and some of the negative impacts on our community.
Wheat Ridge participates in the Jeffco homeless navigation model comprised of 12 municipal and county-based homeless navigators who work directly with persons experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of becoming unhoused. In Wheat Ridge, these efforts have led to housing over 40 people since the program’s inception in 2020. Jeffco governments, nonprofits and private sector entities are now collaborating to develop and fund two Housing Navigation Centers, which will provide a mix of emergency, short-term and long-term housing, and supportive services to help house and support members of the homeless community.
At the local level, Wheat Ridge identified the hotels near I-70 and Kipling as a major contributing factor to our homelessness crisis. Some of these hotels rent rooms to individuals seeking short-term sheltering and others to individuals and families for a longer term, in some cases for many years, without providing sufficient facilities to enable healthy choices and comfortable stays. This, along with the growing number of calls for police resources to service these properties, motivated city council to enact a hotel licensing program in the fall of 2021.
All hotels in Wheat Ridge must be licensed. To maintain their license, hotels must participate in the city’s crime-free hotel program, have corrected items noted in their annual hotel inspection, comply with building and fire codes, and maintain an approved security plan, all in an effort to provide safe lodging and decrease calls for police services to a reasonable level over a period of time.
Effective Oct. 1, hotels must limit guest stays to 29 days or less unless they are licensed for extended stay. To receive the additional extended-stay license, hotels must offer a mix of sufficient amenities, such as cooking facilities, separate living and sleeping quarters, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities or other options so guests can live safely and comfortably long-term in such an environment. Some hotel owners near I-70 and Kipling may not choose to invest in their properties to this degree, meaning residents may no longer stay beyond their initial stay of 29 days.
The city is taking aggressive steps to help the displaced, long-term residents of these properties find suitable, permanent housing. Using American Rescue Plan Act funds, we have entered into a $500,000 partnership with Family Tree, a local nonprofit that specializes in homelessness prevention and housing placement. Together, we are working to reach out to each person who may be displaced to find permanent housing through navigation services, support programs and financial support to include rent and utility deposits. These households will be able to receive intensive case management to help them work toward self-sufficiency and maintain stable housing. If you know of a household living in one of our hotels that needs this help, please call Family Tree at 303-467-2604.
While there is no easy fix for this issue, we are taking bold steps to help change lives and improve our community.
Contact Wheat Ridge Mayor Bud Starker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-235-2800.