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?
Yes, I do support the city’s decision to open a supervised use site in Denver despite hurdles at the state level. Supervised use sites represent one key way to save lives and provide more direct contact to individuals who need help. Sites ensure folks with addiction issues are within close proximity to medical and addiction assistance should they need it or want it. This is also why our libraries are training their staff on overdose intervention and hiring social workers. Our most vulnerable need more outlets for help and our addiction crisis is severe and not one that can be solved solely by criminal justice penalty or consequence.
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 support bail reform. Too many of our jail detainees are only there because they cannot afford bail, not because they have been convicted of a crime. I worked with the City Attorney’s office in 2017 to reform Denver’s municipal sentencing structure, which reduced fines and potential sentences for the vast majority of municipal offenses that disproportionately impacted our low-income, homeless, immigrant residents and communities of color. This was a strong start but bail reform is the next step. In my time in the Agency for Human Rights & Community Partnerships I have been a part of some incredibly difficult but necessary conversations around the treatment of female deputies and female inmates in custody and putting into place key policies that protect their health including pumping policies, pregnancy policies, inequity in employment systems for female deputies and more. I continue to work with the Gender Equity Committee of the Sheriff’s Department to continue to address some key issues in the Denver department along side those most affected.
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, I support raising the age of purchase to 21. In as many ways as possible, we need to limit the likelihood of youth becoming daily smokers. Other states have made this bold step and Colorado should join them. I would support extending the tobacco excise tax to tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, and vaping devices and liquids.
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 believe this passed with such strong community support because Denver residents realize that mental and behavioral health issues are central to a healthy community and far too many go without help for a variety of reasons. I believe seeking mental health and addiction assistance is stigmatized socially and culturally. Historically we have under funded this key area of health. Standards and goals for equity should be a strong consideration of how these funds are managed and distributed and what will become benchmarks for success. Key communities may face disproportionate barriers to finding the help that they need and that works – our communities experiencing homelessness, our youth in Denver Public School, immigrants and refugees, and communities of color, specifically. I am working with the Denver Immigrant & Refugee Commission now to craft a letter asking for an emphasis to be placed upon newcomer communities who may have no reference point to mental health assistance as they make difficult transitions to life in Denver and who may be reliving trauma as a result of the negative and volatile treatment against immigrants nationally. We further need to ensure that cost is not a factor for seeking care. Low income communities are at an economic disadvantage in early and long-term care. We need to train up community members to serve their own communities where trust is more natural and where the ability to communicate and navigate culturally is a key advantage.
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?
Housing best serves the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness. That will be a tall order in a city with several thousand residents visibly homeless and several more who are less visible. When I was a teenager, our family lost housing. We were homeless for a year living between family and friends’ homes until we were approved for public housing. It was a god send and allowed my mom, sister and I to put our energy and focus into the other areas of our live we needed to address. Housing is necessary and we must put strategic resources into protecting housing for vulnerable homeowners and renters and creating multiple levels of housing in Denver including subsidized, transitional, 30-60%AMI, and market rate. I have concerns about Initiative 300 on the upcoming ballot.
The language of Initiative 300 is overly vague and while it might address concerns that I share about basic human rights, it also removes tools for the city to manage park curfews (including mountain parks), building of structures and tent cities. I commit to finding better solutions and ensuring community members experiencing homelessness are part of the plan including revising the camping ban ordinance in place. An additional part of this commitment, I will be pushing the City and local housing and business partners to continue to do more.
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?
Climate change is a monumental problem and one that I think Denver residents and leadership are willing to take on. I do support the 80×50 Climate Action Plan. To reduce our emissions to levels lower than we had in 2005, we will need to both look at our own government footprint as well as that of our overall city and raise the level of accountability for what we build, how we prioritize budget spend, and how we can help make this path accessible to all residents regardless of income or ability. We all can play a role here. I grew up with chronic asthma and on particularly bad climate days, I can feel it and it affects my quality of life. The plan’s priorities for reducing our carbon footprint are noble and goals we can accomplish. But to see big change, we need to transition our entire reliance away from dirty energy sources to clean ones and for that we need to band together as cities and push for federal prioritization and investment. As I’ve seen from my work on immigration, cities are where the real advocacy and resident work are starting.