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?
The proposed Supervised Use Site pilot program is a small part of Denver’s 2018-2023 Opioid Response Strategic Plan, that focuses on reducing drug-related illness and overdose through a three-pronged program of education, increased mental health and drug treatment services and harm reduction. The passage of the Caring For Denver initiative in November 2018 will bring some $40-million to Denver annually to inform the uninitiated of the horrors of drug addiction and to help those addicted to drugs to recover from their illness. Having voted in favor of Council’s bill, I remain open to the discussion of how a Supervised Use Site can operate in Denver in a way that is fully protective of public health and environment. The failure of the state legislature to bring forward a bill that would enable the pilot gives us valuable time to more deeply examine and address the challenges that such a site would present.
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 very interested in the possibility. People should be in jail only because they are a danger to our community, not because their economics limit their ability to buy their way out. I have already met with Chief Judge Teresa Spahn, District Attorney Beth McCann and others, and am researching the unintended consequences that have cropped up in other jurisdictions that have ended money bail. Denver courts are already minimizing the use of cash bail, and I am hopeful we can move toward codifying that policy.
As Chair of City Council’s Safety Committee I am a member of the working group that has begun the process of reinstituting in-person visitation to our jail population. For a couple of decades, inmates have only been allowed video visitation with friends and loved ones, which has proven detrimental to post-incarceration success rates and family development. We are currently designing the implementation plan to begin in-person visits in Denver County Jail, and will carry that effort over to the Downtown Detention Center as well.
I voted in favor of policy changes to eliminate the Sheriff’s Department’s inmate processing fee and the County Court bond fee, as well as a comprehensive sentencing reform package that reduces sentencing levels for minor crimes. I co-sponsored a bill that strengthens the Office of the Independent Monitor and the Citizen Oversight Board with the purpose of ensuring that when questions arise as to behaviors of personnel or effectiveness of policy there will be an independent assessment of the appropriateness of such behaviors and policies.
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 am very concerned about the rate of tobacco use/vaping among Colorado youth. I am supportive of looking at licensure requirements and increasing taxes on tobacco and nicotine products as a way of funding additional education efforts to dissuade young people from picking up tobacco/nicotine products. I am not sure that raising the age of purchase to 21 is either appropriate or effective i reducing the use of these products. I will continue to research the topic.
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 would prioritize drug-treatment and youth-suicide programs. Both areas are at crisis levels in Denver. I would increase efforts to connect our unsheltered population to these services. On a broader level, I would urge the money go toward establishing a full-spectrum mental health treatment system of clinics across our city.
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 Chair of the Safety Committee and a member of Council’s Housing and Homelessness Working Group, I have been focusing on these issues intently. I am in full support of the plan being developed to restructure our shelter system so it better serves populations for which the current system is ill-equipped – couples, families, LGBTQ individuals, people with pets, etc. We need to have shelters open 24-hours every day to accommodate those with special needs, those who work at night and need to sleep during the day.
I will continue to push for more permanent supportive housing for those in the 0-30% AMI levels.
To reduce the number of people falling into homelessness, along with Councilwoman Robin Kniech, I led successful effort to provide free legal aide for people facing eviction, and increase the allowable forms of income on rental applications.
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 was a member of the 80×50 Climate Action Plan Task Force, looking at mobile sources. I am fully in support of the plan and the drive for Denver to rely 100% on renewables by 2030. I will continue to push for increases in our recycling and composting programs and reductions to the tonnage taken to our landfill. I have led Council’s efforts to improve pedestrian infrastructure across our city so residents can safely walk to work, school and play, thus reducing auto trips. I recently worked for installation of bike lanes along Buchtel Blvd. and Florida Ave. in my District and fully support the build out of a comprehensive bicycle network. Along with Councilwoman Susman I have been one of Council’s most persistent voices calling for a cabinet-level Department of Mobility/Transportation to create a mutli-modal transit network that would include mass-transit reaching all corners of our city.
I stand with Healthier Denver and pledge to hold my elected officials accountable for prioritizing my health and the health of my neighbors.
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