By Eric Heinz
Advocates for keeping people housed in Denver have been furious about what they said was an abrupt closure of the Quality Inn at 2601 Zuni St.
The motel had been housing people who were at risk of severe health effects from contracting COVID-19 since Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) contracted with the city to lease the motels through federal funding at the start of the pandemic.
“Early on in our COVID response, we contracted with a number of hotels and motels, and the city contracted to provide two services,” said Cathy Alderman, a spokesperson for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. “The first is for people who got COVID and didn’t have a place to recover and the second was a protective action and that was for high-risk people who couldn’t stay in shelter because if they got it they could be hospitalized or die and so we moved people into these protective action motels.”
That federal funding, however, has now dried up, and since CCH knew it would have to close the four facilities it leased, Alderman said the organization began shutting them down one at a time.
The Quality Inn off Zuni will be returned to the owner, but it’s not clear whether it will become a hotel or motel again. According to Denver’s Housing Stability department (HOST), the city has authorized nearly $40 million in federal funding for various motels and hotels that CCH operated during the height of the pandemic.
It also spent a little more than $25 million to contract with The Salvation Army to provide services at those locations. Derek Woodbury, a spokesperson for HOST, said the city did not have an individual breakdown of how much was spent on individual properties.
In late September, Housekeys Action Network Denver (HAND), an organization backed by the Western Regional Advocacy Project, announced the city would pay for another two weeks at motels and hotels for 10 displaced residents from the Quality Inn.
HAND representatives said in their announcement that they are “working like hell to find housing for them,” but they said it was not likely that they would find any within that time frame. “We will need to go back to the city again as we approach that time to continue to ensure safe hotel stays for these folks until housing is secured,” HAND stated.
Terese Howard, one of the organizers with HAND, told The Denver North Star that the CCH’s reasons for ending the lease were inadequate in the eyes of her and other advocates for the unhoused population. “The lease was running up, which says nothing because they could extend the lease, and they didn’t have enough resources in terms of staffing, and they were definitely lacking in case management,” Howard said.
Howard said of the 150-some residents who lived at the Quality Inn when it was at its fullest, about 50 have wound up back on the streets, in shelters, or in their vehicles since leaving the inn.
“What we’re doing is we’re making some direct (requests) of the city regarding the lease to the residents, and there are some folks who are in very vulnerable situations that we’ve been able to help temporarily,” Howard said. “But they need the city to secure them housing and as a broader community to step up with options that can work for these folks.”
Alderman said CCH worked with “every single guest” at the inn to make sure they had a safe place to go after they announced in August that it would be closing.
“We kept working with individuals, sometimes to put them in other motels, transitional housing and in some cases they moved into assisted living facilities because they had higher health care needs,” she said. “Some, rather than go to shelter, said they would prefer to be in their vehicles, and we provided them as much assistance as we could.”
Alderman said if people stop keeping in touch with CCH, it can be hard to track where they’ve gone.
“We’re working with people who are homeless every day in housing to make sure they’re safe and taken care of, and we wish we had more resources,” Alderman said.