Slightly delayed due to the spring snowstorm, the Denver Coliseum opened Monday afternoon as a shelter for women and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness.
The 24-hour auxiliary shelter can house up to 300 people and will provide support to guests from the Catholic Charities of Denver and the Delores Project, among others, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The goal is to “relieve pressure on our shelter system so our providers can provide more physical distancing in facilities,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said during a press conference Monday morning.
The women’s shelter opens just over a week after the city established another temporary shelter for up to 765 men at the nearby National Western Complex, which was at nearly 93% capacity on Saturday, according to the city’s Emergency Operations Center.
Some homeless advocates worry that consolidating shelters could do more harm than good, potentially jeopardizing the health and safety of both the people who stay there and the staff who serve them.
"Any shelter is not safe in this crisis," Denver Homeless Out Loud activist Terese Howard told Colorado Politics earlier this month. "This is not the solution."
Both shelters provide screening, medical triage and access to respite facilities for anyone who is showing symptoms of the coronavirus or who needs to be isolated for medical reasons. Shelter residents will be screened for symptoms before they enter the building, and that process will be overseen by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
As of Monday, at least 77 people experiencing homelessness have tested positive for the virus, said Nancy Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the city’s Joint Information Center.
The city, with the help of local partners, has secured 552 hotel and motel rooms to provide protection and respite for the city’s unhoused population, according to Britta Fisher, Denver’s chief housing officer.
Another 138 rooms will be added this week in partnership with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Fisher said.
Acquiring hotel and motel rooms has proven to be a challenge for the city for a number of reasons, she said, including the fact that some operators are simply unwilling to house the homeless.
Both Hancock and Gov. Jared Polis have asked hotel and motel operators to open rooms for those who need them during the pandemic, which the mayor said led to the 550 newly secured rooms.
However, another “major” obstacle, Fisher said, is providing adequate staff at the hotels.
“Other than security personnel and medical personnel, and, depending on what the exact needs are for each facility, we continue to need to work to procure the personnel as well as the rooms,” she said. “But we are getting there. And we’re getting more steam every day, and we’re very encouraged by that.”
Fisher could not outline a specific exit strategy, but said that it is something “we continue to discuss.”
Denver City Council on Monday night is expected to approve a contract that will secure $2.5 million in facility and custodial services at both auxiliary shelters through June with possible extensions until the end of September.