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Denver parish hosts new Denver mayor for town hall on homelessness crisis

By Joseph Marcantel

What is the “solution” to homelessness? What part does local government play in working to house those experiencing homelessness? And what part ought the Catholic faithful play in ministering to those experiencing homelessness?

Often, these questions can seem daunting, perhaps unanswerable. Feelings of powerlessness or despair can arise when faced with such a multi-faceted and pressing issue as homelessness. To address this issue and to give space for concerns about homelessness and our duty as citizens to those experiencing homelessness, Mayor Mike Johnston of Denver hosted a town-hall meeting in the parish hall at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church.

A packed house greeted the new Mayor of Denver. There was a discernible buzz in the crowd — an anxious excitement seemed to pulse through the room. It was evident that everyone who showed up cared deeply about the issue.

The event began with an address by one of Johnston’s staff members introducing the topic and previewing the speakers. Most Precious Blood pastor Father Daniel Ciucci then led the crowd in an opening prayer and an Our Father. Paul Kashmann, council member for the sixth district in Denver, gave some opening remarks about how he believes the path forward in encountering the homeless is to “house and heal” them.

Mayor Johnston then gave a state-of-affairs address and the ways in which he and his administration plan to tackle the problem of homelessness head-on. He explained soberly that the number of people experiencing homelessness has risen by almost 300% in the last few years — from about 600 unhoused individuals to about 1,500. He pointed to a number of factors that have contributed to this rise, from a lack of housing inventory to the drug and mental health crises that affect those on the streets disproportionally. Mayor Johnston gave weight to the fact that homelessness is by no means a simple matter and it will take heroic effort and resilience to begin alleviating this problem.

He said a critical turning point came for him in finding a way forward on this issue as he was visiting a Catholic-run and operated non-profit down in Austin, Texas. In speaking with them and hearing their incredible success stories, he realized that no successful treatment of the homelessness issue is one-sided. Rather, to treat homelessness, you must treat the person, wholly and entirely.

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Hundreds of Denver citizens attended the town hall to share their thoughts and concerns on the homelessness crisis with the mayor. Representatives of the homeless ministry apostolate Christ in the City were also present. (Photo provided)

The mayor continued, saying that the first crucial step is to simply begin providing the housing that those experiencing homelessness need to establish a basis of security and stability. In an unprecedented push to make this happen, Mayor Johnston’s administration has announced a housing initiative called “Home for the Holidays.” Their goal is to provide 1,000 units of housing for those who need it most.

This is right in line with what Catholic Charities in Denver has done effectively for nearly 40 years. The approach that Catholic Charities has always taken is one of treating the whole person, as a person. Informed by a deeply Catholic understanding of human anthropology, Catholic Charities has sought to alleviate the burden of poverty through multi-level care.

Mayor Johnston also envisions a permanent path forward through close partnerships with non-profits and ministry organizations who are already very effectively ministering to the homeless. In answer to a question about various city programs addressing this issue, the mayor said that he will be relying heavily on partnerships with organizations who have already laid solid groundwork in homeless outreach, saying they are a “key” to long-term success on this issue.

The mayor’s address ended with a lively Q and A session, with various citizens bringing their concerns and thoughts to the table. Council member Kashmann wrapped this session up with some closing remarks about the hope he has for the future of Denver under the leadership of the mayor. The evening ended with a presentation of Catholic apostolate Christ in the City’s documentary, Homeless but Human.

For more information about Mayor Johnston’s homeless initiative, visit denvergov.org/house1000.


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