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Denver busing homeless away from downtown into neighborhoods

9:22 PM, Dec 6, 2012   |    comments
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The city is hiring buses and transporting 100-150 homeless people out of the downtown area each night.

Demand for existing shelter beds has increased in the wake of the urban camping ban passed earlier this year by the Denver City Council.

Currently homeless people who can't get beds downtown are taken to the Martin Luther King, Jr. community center in North Park Hill.

The facility is serving as a makeshift shelter for 30 days and then another center will get a turn.

Residents in the Highlands neighborhood found out just this week that they're next-and they weren't happy about the short notice.

"It felt a little shady," Stefani Bender-Przybylski said after attending a meeting to notify the neighborhood on Wednesday. "At the meeting a gentleman from the mayor's office basically told us that this wasn't a proposal-- it was happening."

Bernie Milliner, who heads Denver's Road Home, says it was a meeting to notify, not to make plans. But he's learned that more notice is a good idea.

"We could have done better on our notifications," Milliner said. "The holidays got in the way. No excuses, but we could have done better. We will do better."

He's already working to notify the neighborhood where the next emergency shelter will go.

For parents living near the Highlands facility, the statistics given on the homeless population moving in next door weren't comforting.

The group will be all men who can't be accommodated at existing shelters.

"50 substance abusers and 60 mentally ill men will be in my neighborhood for 30 days," Bender- Przybylski said.

The homeless people are supposed to stay in the shelter. They will not be allowed back in if they leave.

Buses will take them to the shelter around 7 p.m. and take them back to downtown around 5 or 6 a.m., with the intent of avoiding disruption to activities at the rec center, which also houses a head start program for children.

Councilwoman Susan Shepherd only learned late last week about these plans in her district. She says it's an example of why she voted against the camping ban.

"I knew at that time that we were not ready to deal with all of the issues that would come up as a result," Shepherd said. "I knew that we didn't have a solid plan in place."

Since the camping ban is law, Shepherd says she supports what Denver's Road Home is doing, even if they could do a better job of outreach to communities.

Even the concerned moms seem determined to make proverbial lemonade out of this by helping their new homeless neighbors.

"[We plan to] band together and try to make them feel welcome and help them while they're there," Bender- Przybylski said.

She says moms are already talking about holding a coat drive, collecting toiletries, and baking cookies for the men at the shelter.

The hope is that this will be the only winter that Denver needs to resort to the tactic of shuttling homeless people around.

A site has not been chosen for a proposed 24-hour homeless facility.

Shepherd says putting some homeless people into neighborhoods that aren't used to them could help put pressure on to create more permanent housing.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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