Mike Somma – Healthier Denver

Mike Somma

Running for: District 1
Supervised-Use Sites & the Opioid Crisis

Nationally, people are now more-likely to die from an opioid overdose than from a car crash. In Colorado, opioid-related deaths have tripled in the past fifteen years, and Denver’s rates of opioid- related deaths are markedly higher than that of the rest of the state. Last year, Denver City Council authorized a pilot supervised-use site, which would provide a safe space with trained professionals and medical supplies for people who use drugs but aren’t yet in recovery. Such sites are proven to drastically reduce harm and prevent death by overdose. They provide a pathway to recovery and there has been a positive association between using a supervised use site and starting in addiction treatment.


Do you support the continuance of the city’s plan to open a supervised use site in Denver (pending state legislation)?

In addition to your support or opposition of supervised use sites, what are your plans to address the opioid crisis in Denver?

As a first responder, I have seen the effects of the opioid crisis to a greater extent than most. There is no doubt that these drugs have ravaged families, neighborhoods, and entire communities, and Denver needs to respond accordingly. With regard to supervised use sites, I believe that the city needs to be prepared to take action in whatever way the state legislature approves–because truly combatting this epidemic will require state and federal resources, in addition to city services. While we wait for our legislators to pave the path forward for supervised use sites, the city must take other actions that are within its control. I believe that we can be more proactive about providing drug and alcohol recovery counselors, and information about available programs, at locations such as our needle exchange and plasma donation sites. This can provide assistance at the critical, active-use phase, when people are most at-risk.

Cash Bail

When people are accused of a crime, they often spend extraordinary amounts of time in jail because they are not able to afford and quickly pay even low amounts of bail. The longer a person sits behind bars, the higher their chance of experiencing physical and mental health issues due to inadequate care is. Additional consequences can include loss of employment and/or housing. The bond industry further exacerbates the health effects of the cash bail system by exploiting low-income people and people of color, adding stress and fear to an already difficult situation, and worsening the inequitable negative mental and physical health outcomes of the accused.


Do you support ending cash bail in Denver? Why or why not?

What other policies would you pursue to reduce the detrimental health effects of the existing criminal justice system?

I am not an expert on cash bail, but I know that we need to make sure that our criminal justice system achieves equal justice for all. The law should not know color or wealth. When our prisons exacerbate mental illness, and mental illness leads to cycles of instability and poverty, then we bring these people right back into the system without having improved our community at all. While I do not have all the answers, I would use the office of City Council to bring stakeholders together and, with the input of experts, push for genuine criminal justice reform in Denver.

Additionally, I feel that it is important for our prison staff, and especially our medical staff within these facilities, to maintain compassion for this population and be proactive in assisting them in their medical and mental health issues. I believe that education and accountability are key components in this endeavor, and the city should prioritize these qualities in recruitment and training

Tobacco & E-Cigarettes

Colorado’s kids use e-cigarettes at twice the national rate and 91,000 of our youth will die prematurely from the health effects of tobacco. Annual health care costs in our state from the effects of smoking are $1.89 billion. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disability in Denver. There are a number of proven ways to stem the tobacco and e-cigarette crisis: licensure of tobacco and e-cigarette sales, increasing taxes on those products, and raising the age of purchase to 21 are some the most effective.


Do you support raising the age of purchase to 21 for cigarettes and other tobacco products such as chewing tobacco?

Do you support enacting licensure requirements and increasing the taxes on tobacco and nicotine products for the city of Denver?

Yes and yes. In a state known for healthy living, our teen nicotine-use rate is nothing to be proud of. On paper, the gap between 18 and 21 is not much–in reality, those are often years of immense growth in a young person’s life. I would like to see tobacco regulated much more like alcohol, and ask our young folks to wait another few years before making the decision to mess around with dangerous, addictive products. We were successful in decreasing the overall tobacco-use rate, and now we need to do the same thing for other nicotine products.

Mental Health Care

The need for improved mental and behavioral health care in our city is vast: 20 percent of Denverites deal with a daily mental health or addiction issue. In Colorado, suicide is the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 24 and 1-in-8 Denver Public School students have seriously thought about suicide. Currently, only 40 percent of people with daily mental health or addiction issues receive adequate care. Recognizing the severity of the issue, Denver voters in 2018 overwhelmingly passed Initiated Ordinance 301, also known as Caring 4 Denver. The 0.25 percent sales tax will fund mental health services, facilities, suicide prevention, opioid and substance use prevention, first-responder training, and more.


A to-be-determined nonprofit organization will be administering the Caring 4 Denver funds. How would you prioritize utilizing the funds to address mental and behavioral health and addiction needs in the city of Denver? What can the city do beyond Caring 4 Denver to address these issues?

Mental health is my top priority, and I have spent decades as a first responder seeing these illnesses handled in good and bad ways. I think that shelters and treatment centers should be the top priorities when it comes to allocating Caring 4 Denver funds. Though many people live comfortable, successful lives with well-managed mental illnesses, we cannot separate the issues of mental illness, homelessness, and drug use. As we try to intervene and break that cycle of hopelessness, stability is the most important thing we can offer. Shelters and treatment facilities go a long way towards providing that stability.

I believe we need to harness the power of the programs in place here in Denver, and proactively bring focus to our specific area. I would like work with the homeless in our area, and connect them with housing and healthcare that is available. I will work to decrease waiting lists for our homeless population by working to increase the amount of housing available in our area. This can be accomplished by working with non profit, and faith-based organizations. I will also work to educate our community on the benefits of including housing for the homeless in the area. Doing so will hopefully reduce the amount of fear and uncertainty surrounding this population, allowing neighborhoods to come together in support of our un-housed neighbors.


Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

In Denver, the number of individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness between 2015 and 2018 has increased 58 percent – from 827 to 1,308 people. Unsheltered means persons not in places meant for habitation, i.e. streets, bridges, abandoned buildings, and outdoor camps. Moreover, 30 percent of the Metro Denver homeless population reported experiencing chronic homelessness. The City of Denver is seeking solutions to assist individuals experiencing homelessness in our community that strike the right balance between housing options, shelters, and resources for these individuals to transition into a stable environment long-term.


How do we best serve the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness in Denver?

What specific policies would you pursue and/or ordinances would you modify?

As with the general issue of mental health, and in addition to the Caring 4 Denver funds, we need to get creative about other city resources and how we can re-allocate them to best serve the city. I think this is particularly true when it comes to the homeless population.

For example, there are not enough beds in the city’s shelters, and there are not enough shelters to house more beds, and shelters take time to build. To more immediately address the issue of those without homes, we need to look at converting existing city properties that are

er unused or underused. The old Sheriff’s Department headquarters at 13th and Cherokee, adjacent to the Denver Police building, is one such city property.

Moreover, we need to think big. As a city councilor, I will push for a New Deal-style series of programs to address homelessness in Denver. We can create jobs and shelters at the same time by offering construction employment opportunities to Denver’s homeless population, in pursuit of building not only new shelters, but new treatment facilities, tiny home villages, and city works. Along with training and treatment programs, I believe that we can generate income, purpose, and housing for the homeless if we finally start focusing on cycle-breaking ideas.

I believe both the city and state will need to work collaboratively to review and possibly amend the TABOR Bill, which restricts the percentage of money utilized for mental health and our homeless population.

Climate Change

Colorado is facing disproportionate effects of climate change. Here in Denver, we are seeing substantial increases in the number of days each year topping 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Those temperatures exacerbate illnesses like asthma and cardiovascular disease, cause earlier snow melt, increase ozone pollution, and worsen long-standing water supply problems. The city has created the 80×50 Climate Action Plan, which highlights key strategies in the three sectors most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions in the city: buildings, transportation, and electricity generation. Denver’s long-term greenhouse gas reduction goal is to reduce emissions 80 percent below 2005 baselines levels by 2050. Today, many clean energy technologies, such as wind, solar, and battery storage, are available.


Do you support the city’s 80×50 Climate Action Plan?

What additional policies or practices should be implemented to protect our air, water, and the public’s health?

Yes, I support the city’s 80×50 Climate Action Plan, but I believe that we needs bolder initiatives as well. We have made progress since the days of Denver’s “brown cloud,” but we have a lot of work to do if we are going to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

A couple of other initiatives we could look at are increasing the number of eco-friendly RTD busses (the blue busses) and making them smaller, and more mobile to operate. Decreasing bus size could help reduce traffic delays and idling cars in intersections. I also think we could look at the possibility of creating a dam in our region, such as the Hoover Dam in Las Vegas. This could effectively generate power for large sectors of our communities.