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?
233 people died on Denver’s streets last year, and a significant percentage of those deaths were due to drug overdoses. Those deaths happen disproportionately more in Denver’s District 10 than in other areas of the city (example: 4 overdoses occurred in Denver Public Library’s main branch in District 10). After speaking with neighbors and examining surveys, the majority of District 10 residents support a supervised use site. People are sensitive to the idea of condoning drug use, but something must be done and this is a project worth testing to see its effectiveness. I’ve personally witnessed drug use in the alley behind my home and in the park where I walk my dog and where the nearby DPS schools allow kids to recess. I would much prefer users to have a safe, supervised place to use than the current solution where people are using in parks next to our children and leaving needles in the grass for us, our kids, or our pets to step on.
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?
The single, most important solution for overcrowding in jails is bail reform [ https://www.denverpost.com/2018/01/18/the-solution-for-overcrowding-in-colorado-jails-is-bail-reform/]. Elisabeth Epps and the Colorado Freedom Fund are working on exactly that problem, and I would specifically work with Elisabeth and others to work on bail reform. The Colorado Sun recently wrote an article about how it “could change in 2019” [ https://coloradosun.com/2018/12/16/colorado-freedom-fund-bail-nicolais-opinion/ ], and my plan would be to have a new article replace the word “could” with “will.” It’s not ok to incarcerate someone because they’re so poor they can’t afford $10 bail. It’s expensive for taxpayers, and it’s just wrong.
I was/am a strong supporter of Caring4Denver ( https://www.facebook.com/ChrisForDenver/posts/1509594702502067 ). Denver has provided little funding for substance abuse and mental health treatment, and Caring4Denver will provide much needed relief. After talking with sheriffs in our jails, there are many who are sympathetic to those with substance abuse or mental health issues, but if we don’t provide adequate resources, sympathy won’t lead to solutions. It’s important that we shepherd this new funding source in ways that make it most effective for those who need treatment.
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?
My mom and grandmother both smoked most of their lives. In the years before my grandmother died, it became more and more difficult for her to talk without extended coughing spells. I have personally never smoked cigarettes as a result of watching those close to me struggle with breathing. Yes and yes.
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?
In Colorado, suicide is also the #1 cause of death for age groups 15-24, 25-34, and 45-54. For 35-44, suicide is a close second to “poisonings:” as in including drug overdoses from prescription and other drugs. It’s only Coloradans aged below 15 or 55+ whose deaths don’t include suicide or poisoning as 2 of their top 3 causes of death.
As mentioned in a previous answer, I was a strong supporter for Caring4Denver ( https://www.facebook.com/ChrisForDenver/posts/1509594702502067 ) and was the 2nd person to sign the petition to get it on the ballot. Our first responders are trained to address emergent medical needs, but increasingly those first responses result from substance abuse or mental health needs. I intend to work with Denver Fire 858, the Fraternal Order of Police, Teamsters, Denver Police Department, and other organizations to identify how best to utilize funds in first responder and jail settings. Denver Fire has already suggested the idea of a two-tier first response approach: use engine/ladder equipment for fire emergencies and smaller equipment for health/safety emergencies. Another set of partners would include existing subject matter experts in substance abuse/mental health treatment like Denver Health and Mental Health Center of Denver – what are their thoughts on how best to utilize Caring4Denver funds? Put another way: a legislator’s job isn’t to know everything; instead, their job is to know who the subject matter experts are and how to connect them in ways that make great policy for constituents.
There are so many reasons why people have feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. It doesn’t take an MBA in Finance to know that when expenses exceed income, that’s bad, yet many in Denver (and elsewhere!) are facing exactly that problem. Many are saddled with student loan and auto loan debt. Many are under-employed and don’t make a living wage. Housing costs have skyrocketed. It’s time working families get a break, and I intend to fight for a living wage and affordable/low-income/attainable housing in Denver. Colorado Coalition for the Homeless reports that 60% of Denver’s homeless are employed, further underscoring the issue. If we have jobs and still can’t afford a house, we must increase wages and decrease costs.
We also have a deterioration of community in Denver (again … and elsewhere!). People feel isolated and lonely ( https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23/opinion/loneliness-political-polarization.html: “When people have a hole in their life, they often fill it with angry politics”). Our public parks are under-funded, and public space keeps vanishing. These are places where people can go to reconnect with nature and with neighbors, therefore building community support networks and helping people feel calmer.
We must also fix our busted and broken sidewalks. Sidewalks are our most equitable form of transit and also the bedrock of any transit system beyond cars – after all, we must use the sidewalk to get to the bus stop, train stop, etc. 10% of Denver has no sidewalk at all, and another 30% of Denver has sidewalks narrower than 4 feet wide. Only 5% of Denver’s sidewalks meet the report’s “quality assessment.” The Denver report mentions that they use 4’ wide because “it’s wide enough for a wheelchair.” Frankly, as someone who uses a wheelchair for mobility, our sidewalks are not a disability issue, they’re a Denver issue. What about parents with kids in strollers? What about people walking pets? What about seniors with walkers or veterans in wheelchairs? They should all have the freedom to get from A to B and feel safe while doing it. If we feel confined to our homes, if we can’t visit our neighbor and break bread, or if we can’t walk around the block, we’re hurting ourselves and our city. What more is a city than its people? And if a city’s people can’t connect, we’re losing the fabric that makes each neighborhood special and makes Denver a great place to live. Also, the likelihood of a site with a paved sidewalk being a crash site is 88.2% lower than a site without a sidewalk ( http://guide.saferoutesinfo.org/engineering/sidewalks.cfm ). Finally, if a sidewalk isn’t wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side and hold hands, we’re keeping people from getting outside and connecting with the city.
Let’s also work on protected bike lanes and increasing access to mass transit. If we give our residents increased freedom and safety to travel and increased access to nature like in our parks, we’ll empower many to feel better about themselves and the world around them.
Denver has food deserts. They exist in easy-to-identify neighborhoods like G-E-S and Montbello, but Uptown also has no grocery store within its neighborhood (I’m counting Marczyk Fine Foods as a specialty store, not a grocery store). Just like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests: if we don’t have access to proper nutrition – including fresh and healthy food – our happiness suffers and so does our ability to consider higher levels of the hierarchy.
We should also prioritize food access near schools. 2/3 of all DPS students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. [ https://denverite.com/2018/01/31/colorado-free-school-lunches/ ]. 17.2% of Denver’s children are food insecure. Work with DPS to ensure an end to lunch shaming [ https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2018/06/22/when-denver-stopped-lunch-shaming-debt-from-unpaid-meals-skyrocketed/ ]. Where low-income families live, there tends to be food insecurity and food deserts [ https://denverite.com/2018/01/31/colorado-free-school-lunches/ ]. My #20MinuteNeighborhood concept means Denver should ensure that each neighborhood has all it needs to thrive within a 20-minute walk, ride or roll (ie no cars). This includes access to fresh and healthy food. For more information on the #20MinuteNeighborhood, visit https://chrisfordenver.com/policy/#neighborhood . Also, one solution for South High School’s food access was the addition of the South Food Bank nearby. Denver can and should prioritize increasing access to food near our schools so our students can focus on learning how to be the leaders for our next generation instead of focusing on their empty stomachs.
[source of mortality statistics: https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/colorado-cause-of-death-by-age-and-gender ]
[source of sidewalk statistics: https://denver.streetsblog.org/2017/05/30/the-sorry-state-of-denvers-pedestrian-network/ ]
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?
Homelessness is a complicated topic, but it’s clear that Denver’s homeless population has quadrupled in just the last 4 years [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuAHCD5wwi4 – Denver7 report]. The reason homelessness has increased in Denver is in part due to the number of people moving to the metro area. Denver’s population alone has grown by 100,000 in just 7 years [ https://www.denverpost.com/2018/03/22/denver-population-growth-100000-7-years-pace-slowing/ ]. As more people move to Denver, there needs to be more places to house those people and more jobs, too. People sometimes move here because of a job opportunity, but many others move to Denver because of the quality of life and our “extraordinary outdoor lifestyle” [ https://blog.recolorado.com/why-are-so-many-people-moving-to-denver/ ].
The first two reasons we have homeless in Denver are substance abuse and mental health. Denver has provided no funding for substance abuse and mental health treatment beyond basic training for first responders and our jail system. I’m proud to say I was a firm supporter of Caring4Denver[ http://caring4denver.com/ ], a ballot initiative that passed in November 2018 [ https://www.denverpost.com/2018/11/06/denver-ballot-issues-results/ ] which will provide $41-45 million annually for substance abuse and mental health treatment. Even if someone doesn’t have a mental health diagnosis when they become homeless, the experiences of life on the street mean people often suffer from PTSD once they’ve experienced homelessness [ https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/blogs/ptsd-and-homeless-shell-shocked-your-streets ].
Still, it is short-sighted to say substance abuse and mental health diagnoses are the sole causes. After all, Homeless Out Loud states that 60% of our homeless are employed [ https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/360/as-homeless-population-soars-in-colorado-panhandling-becomes-more-pervasive-but-is-it-a-problem- ], and that means at least 60% of those who are homeless can manage their substance abuse and mental health diagnoses well enough to maintain a job.
We also have an affordable housing and low-income housing crisis [ https://denverite.com/2018/02/23/affordable-average-median-income-matters-denvers-housing-projects/ ]. One component is the number of people moving to Colorado vs. the number of available homes. There just aren’t enough homes for all those moving here, so supply/demand shows that rents are increasing. Another component is that new condominium construction has been limited because of building defects. That’s another complicated conversation, but the gist is that external forces have kept new for-sale construction low over the last several years [ ex: https://www.bisnow.com/denver/news/multifamily/after-construction-defects-reform-developers-testing-the-condo-market-91100 ]. We also have a lack of low-income and affordable housing, which are yet more complicated conversations that move beyond the question about homelessness. That lack is from a number of sources – from affordable housing stock being sold as market rate [ https://www.9news.com/article/news/local/next/people-in-denver-forced-to-sell-affordable-housing-they-didnt-know-they-bought/73-530761758 ] to developers opting out of affordable housing and instead paying a fee to affordable housing entities selling properties to market rate developers instead of building affordable housing [ https://www.westword.com/news/denver-housing-authority-sells-land-where-it-could-build-affordable-housing-why-11065857 ]. We also just learned that affordable units have been purchased then rented out at market rate to unsuspecting tenants [ https://kdvr.com/2018/12/26/denver-city-council-employee-accused-of-renting-out-condo-he-bought-at-discount-with-affordable-housing-program/ ].
Next, we have a lack of a living wage in Denver. To afford to rent a standard 2-bedroom apartment in Colroado on a 40-hour work week, a family needs to make more than $21/hr., yet the average renter in Colorado makes about $15/hr (which means half of renting Coloradans make less than that).
[ https://www.cpr.org/news/newsbeat/report-21-hour-wage-needed-afford-2-bedroom-apartment-colorado ] . While I don’t know every homeless in Denver, I do know Steve, a friend who’s worked at a nearby grocery store for years. Last June, he told me that he had to come up with $3k in rent or get out by Monday. This was Friday. He lived in subsidized housing, but even with the subsidy and with a job, he wasn’t making enough to make ends meet. He was evicted, and I haven’t seen him since ( https://www.facebook.com/ChrisForDenver/posts/1523320447796159 ).
Finally, Denver has some options for those who can’t afford a place to live, but many prefer to sleep outside because the various housing options just don’t work for some. Many of these concerns are already documented. Some shelters don’t allow pets, some don’t allow loved ones. Some shelters don’t let some out early enough to get to work or don’t accommodate those who work nights. Some shelters have bed bugs, and some have requirements that don’t align with a person’s religious beliefs. There are numerous other reasons, and for more information, visit here: https://www.westword.com/news/reasons-why-denvers-homeless-sleep-outside-and-not-in-overnight-shelters-10987893 .
As for what to do with our homeless, there are several tactical and strategic solutions:
- Properly fund and staff existing affordable housing programs so that affordable housing stock doesn’t accidentally get sold as market rate and so affordable homes comply with the covenants associated with affordable housing.
- Stop homeless sweeps. They’re expensive, and they treat symptoms, not causes. Instead, use those funds to address causes such as affordable housing and living wage.
- Ensure Caring4Denver has the best possible chance for success. There’s an opportunity for that additional $41-45 million annually to make a huge difference for Denver and the people who live in it, and Denver’s elected officials can pave the way for maximum success. This includes a strong partnership with Denver Health and Mental Health Center of Denver since they already have extensive experience.
- Support $15forDIA. We need a living wage in Denver, and $15/hr minimum wage is a move in the right direction. I’ve made public my support by promoting the initiative and personally contributing (see $15forDIA’s December 2018 report for my on-the-record contribution). We should support other initiatives that promote a living wage.
- Support the Mayor’s plan for a $15/hr minimum wage for all city employees. He presented this to great fanfare a few days ago, and now let’s ensure this quickly passes and becomes law.
- Support businesses in Denver who balance profitability with social responsibility. Ex: Illegal Pete’s which provides $15/hr for its employees as well as benefits [ https://denver.cbslocal.com/2018/12/27/illegal-petes-minimum-wage-employee-compensation-raise/ ]
- Support developers who balance profitability with social responsibility. Ex: [ https://denverite.com/2018/12/19/86-affordable-condos-will-go-up-just-down-the-block-from-the-santa-fe-art-district/ ]
- Create a level playing field for all future developments which spell out exactly what housing requirements are in place for every development – including affordable/low-income housing requirements. Developers and attorneys who represent developers both say the playing field is unequal and unclear for the Denver market.
- Work with Homeless Out Loud, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Centro Humanitario, Denver Rescue Mission, Urban Peak, Servicios de la Raza, and other relevant agencies to find how to improve the shelters in Denver. As far as homeless efforts, this should be the focus until Denver has at least one location that works for each type of homeless.
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?
I support the plan. I attended the 2018 press conference when the 80×50 plan was discussed ( https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10160534211075534 ). I don’t see enough action around reducing single occupant vehicles. To quote Streetsblog USA: “we can’t stop global warming without reducing driving” ( https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/12/18/we-cant-stop-global-warming-without-reducing-driving/ ). Enter my idea of the #20MinuteNeighborhood.
If we build housing where people want to live, work, and play, we reduce demands on our transit system. It’s expensive to own and operate a car (car loan, gas, maintenance, insurance, depreciation), so the less you use it, the lower your expenses. Also, the closer people live to necessities like food, general goods, entertainment, and work, the less time they spend commuting which means more time available to spend with friends and family. As they say, time is money. So let’s make sure all of the necessities are within a 20-minute walk, ride, or roll of homes in each neighborhood.
Denver is expecting an additional 200,000 people to move to the city, so we need more housing development to offset the current strain on our housing market and the upcoming additional strain from all those moving to Denver. One can love developers or hate developers, but either way, we need development to help us reduce the strain. While we’re developing, let’s ensure our new developments enrich the neighborhood around it. Let’s consider adding retail space on the ground floor so we can end our food deserts and encourage locally-owned businesses. Let’s consider office/commercial space on floors 2-3 for small businesses, our thriving tech startups, or executive suites, so those offices can be closer to where people live. Then, let’s place residences on higher floors. The best way to preserve our rugged outdoor lifestyle in our national parks and ski resorts is to build in Denver. Colorado is a rural state, but if we choose one place to have urban density, shouldn’t it be Denver? Not even all of Denver needs increased urban density, but District 10’s proximity to the urban core makes it an attractive location to consider additional neighborhood-driven development in a way to accommodate growth yet preserve that which makes each neighborhood unique.