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 teenager I became quite familiar with the devastating effects of opioid addiction as my youngest sibling developed an addiction to heroin. His use of heroin was catalyzed by witnessing someone in our neighborhood park injecting. This person frequented the park, became my brother’s friend, came to my grandmother’s home and eventually coerced my brother into injecting himself. I found out about his addiction when my grandmother’s diabetic needles started to disappear rapidly causing me to investigate. Later in life a very good friend of mine became an injected heroin user after having been addicted to his sick mother’s oxycontins. I have felt the real impact and fear of losing a loved one to opioid overdose. As of February 19th, Senator Brittany Peterson decided not to carry the statewide legislation that would permit a supervised use site pilot in Denver this year. Thus, in the interim, I would continue to champion the Denver-led lawsuit against the makers and distributors of prescription painkillers for their aggressive marketing and false claims of low likelihood of addiction. In addition, addressing not only the source of opioid access through pharmaceuticals but also the psychological and pro-social needs of those in recovery would be a priority. The Phoenix Project is a pro-social nonprofit in my district that I believe is a model where we should be investing our public mental health dollars. Housing those who have lost jobs and economic opportunities due to addiction would also be at the top of my priority list.
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 absolutely support ending cash bail. I don’t believe the bond industry (or any industry for that matter) should be profiting off of Black, Brown and poor bodies. I think an alleged cornerstone of our justice system is that we are innocent until PROVEN guilty. Therefore, until someone has been proven guilty, they should never be confined to a cage. I generally do not believe our criminal justice system is truly implementing justice and would love to see large scale reform of our system–even eradication if we could build a society that can police and govern itself. In the interim, ending the school to prison pipeline by starting with banning pre-k-5th grade suspension and expulsion would be a great start. Allowing in-person inmate visits, quality evaluations and mental & physical healthcare during incarceration, and generally shifting the probation and parole models to a wraparound service caseworker model could all alleviate some of the impacts. While many of these reforms would have to happen at the state level, I believe we can start in the city jails and we can use our platforms to advance these changes with our peer legislators at the state level. We have to begin by co-creating a vision with our multi-level government representatives to define the purpose of the justice system.
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?
I absolutely support raising the age of purchase to 21 for cigarettes. As someone who has spent my career working with youth and catching them using e-cigarettes on bathroom breaks at the age of 12, I support stronger regulations of online sales as well. Many of our youth order their products online without a parent present and they intercept the package before their parents. Thus, we need to do more to make it further out of reach for youth who are obtaining tobacco in this way. Increasing sales taxes on tobacco and nicotine are also decent tactics for disincentivizing harmful behavior in the short term.
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?
I did not support the founding of a non-profit foundation with a board appointed by the mayor to disburse tax payer dollars via grants for mental health. I personally believe this should have gone to the Denver Human Services line item and should have been earmarked primarily for wraparound services for neighbors with mental health challenges at this time. I would pay special attention to ensuring that a fair process for selecting grantees was identified and oversight was independent and transparent. I believe the homeless are the most vulnerable and underserved population right now with unaddressed mental health needs.
Beyond Caring for Denver which will be a drop in the bucket, I would like to explore Denver’s Road Home’s segmented housing plan and build housing around services including and especially mental health and addiction services. Mental and behavioral health has to be embedded into all that we are doing from pre-school onward. It should be integrated into the workplace, community centers and all wellness facilities. I think we need to use our platform at the state level to advocate for folks to be able to commit themselves to treatment and I believe we need to advocate for the monitoring of disparities in classification of Black, Brown and poor children as ED in schools. Addressing social determinants of health generally will help tackle the root causes of negative health outcomes overall. Pro-social opportunities for health lifestyles and economic opportunities are always basic necessities for mental health wellness generally
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?
I would first repeal the Camping Ban authored by the incumbent I am challenging. I don’t feel like our city has a true strategic plan or vision and most agencies don’t really know how they are expect to complement or supplement each others’ work in a streamlined efficient manner. I would start with some visioning around how we address the full spectrum of housing across the different agencies where each segment currently lives. I would then consolidate the departments addressing various segments of housing solutions into one office. Housing has be be perceived as a spectrum of experiences and our solutions must recognize that the spectrum is also a pipeline and the end goal should be homeownership. I would like to find resources to fund the segmented housing and wrap around model for homeless services that exists in Denver’s Road Home but is not funded. I would then like to reinstate the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance with a stronger mandate/expectation for affordability and conditions of construction. I’d also like to reform our zoning code to allow for creative and co-operative housing, invest in community-led land trusts, expand renter protections and hold bad landlords accountable in transparent and public manner, controlling the rate of property taxes levied at the local level in a single cycle in vulnerable areas and piloting tax abatement in areas of uniquely concentrated public investment and high rates of change, expediting permitting for projects that develop over 40% affordable housing and streamlining permitting for neighborhoods wanting to split lots to build ADUs. These are just a few small ways I think we can tackle to problem of growing inequity and involuntary displacement leading to homelessness.
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?
In theory yes, I support the direction of the 80×50 Climate Action Plan but I do not feel that the plan is actually a real roadmap. I don’t see any truly measurable goals or objectives nor departments or teams responsible for implementation. I don’t see real baseline measures of anything and I don’t see an acknowledgement of how we are perpetuating/funding practices and projects that are degrading our air, water and public health. As someone who’s race was catalyzed by environmental racism experiences of living in the nation’s most polluted zip code in District 9, I feel like this “plan” is to pacify those concerned but not actually a plan ot achieve large scale change. If we wanted to really achieve these goals we would know how much money we are divesting in harmful projects, which projects they are and how we will address the issues and needs differently and how much it will cost. I would personally work to hold Gov. Polis accountable for his promises to reopen the I-70 expansion project decision. I would stop all investment of public dollars in projects that do not move us closer to our climate goals and formulate solutions that will move us in the right direction. The South Platte remains a contaminated waterway without a real understanding of the source of contamination, the air quality is degrading and public health is far from a priority because we haven’t even assessed the cumulative impacts of various industries on our health. Denver continuously fails to take a leadership role in the region to protect the environment and lead others into better practices. Fracking is still possible and the gas, oil and refinery industries are still being allowed to contaminate our communities without repercussions. I would utilize the platform to be a responsible party in the region and lead on climate change goals in partnership with our state legislature and CDPHE. I would equip residents with the tools, language and knowledge they need to understand the plan and their role in it.