President’s Message – September 2023

Fall is on its way bringing cooler temperatures and fall colors, but there is still plenty of time to enjoy outdoors activities in downtown.  The Denver Food and Wine Festival will be held on the Auraria Campus from September 6th-9th.  Several Upper Downtown restaurants will be represented.  Civic Center Eats will continue its annual food truck lunches at Civic Center Park every Thursday from 11-2 p.m. through September 14th.  UpDoNA will be hosting a table on Thursday, September 7th.  Come down, grab lunch, and say hi!

Mayoral Town Hall at Union Station.  Approximately 300 people attended the Mayoral Town Hall at Union Station on Saturday, August 26th.  Thanks to all the UpDoNA members who attended.  Here are some highlights from the forum.  The Emergency Declaration on Homelessness was recently extended by City Council by a vote of 8-1.  State statute requires that emergency declarations receive city council approval if it lasts more than seven days, so expect several extensions.  Mayor Johnston released a list of potential sites on August 24th and it includes two sites in District 10, 1375 N. Elati Street and 1199 N. Bannock Street; both locations are outside of UpDoNA’s footprint.  Mayor Johnston emphasized that there must be a balance between the rights and safety of the unhoused and the rights and safety of downtown residents and businesses.  To reach his goal of housing 1,000 unhoused by the end of the year, Mayor Johnston will rely on hotel conversions, micro communities, and apartments.  Funding will come from city funds, ARPA funding from the city and state – both have been applied for, and from Proposition 123 – Colorado Affordable Housing Fund.  The Mayor estimates that 10% of the unhoused will refuse help.  For those 10%, the options will be to voluntarily access treatment or be sentenced to in-house treatment.  Two pods of the county jail will be used for in-patent drug and mental health treatment.  Sal Tripodi, Co-Chair of UpDoNA’s Arts and Beautification Committee asked the mayor what RNOs can do to help.  The Mayor’s answer was this:  1) assist in outreach to speak with the unhoused to find out needs, 2) assist in Moving Day, and 3) remain ongoing neighbors by donating needed items, use skills to become a job or finance coach, etc.  UpDoNA has made it known to several city council members and to the mayor’s office that we are here to help.  We’ll keep members updated as we get specific information. 

Downtown Denver National Night Out.  Thanks to everyone who attended our first Downtown Denver National Night Out.  Despite the weather, we had a very successful event with approximately 250 people attending.  It was great to see downtown residents, police officers, fire fighters, and EMTs getting to know each other!  Several city leaders spoke to the crowd including Mayor Johnston who stayed to speak personally with several residents.  The UpDoNA Cares Committee arranged to have the extra drinks and hot dogs donated to STEP Denver and to The Delores Project.  Thanks again to all our sponsors and volunteers for making the event possible!  Planning for next year’s event starts soon.  Please contact me at lisapope@updona.org if you are interested in volunteering for this very important event.

Police Advisory Board.   At this month’s Police Advisory Board meeting, Chief Thomas discussed several topics including the police department’s budget and its future role in homeless encampment clean ups.  DPD was successful in getting a budget approved that allows the department to increase its force from 1,596 policer officers to 1,639 police officers.  Unfortunately, this won’t happen overnight.  Currently, it takes Denver approximately 240 days to get police officers trained and on patrol; most cities do it in 90 days.  DPD and the city’s Civil Service Commission are looking at ways to make the process more efficient.  DPD will continue to support the cleanup of encampments that are deemed by Mayor Johnston to be a health and safety risk.  HOST and DOTI, not DPD, are responsible for encampment clean ups.  DPD plans to limit its role to enforcement only. 

Tom Wolf, West Coast Initiative for the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions.   Recently I had the opportunity to attend a webinar with Tom Wolf.  Tom was a family man and successful businessman who found himself homeless and living on the streets of San Francisco after becoming addicted to heroin and fentanyl following a foot surgery.  After being arrested six times for selling drugs to support his habit, he was jailed.  Tom credits that arrest and subsequent jail time for saving his life.  Fortunately, he is no longer addicted to drugs and has been reunited with his family.  Now, Tom speaks to city leaders across the country discussing the horrors of life on the streets and ways in which to address the root cause of homelessness – drug addiction and mental health.  If you’d like to watch the webinar, please use this link:  Homelessness: How can Denver avoid becoming the next San Francisco | Multimedia | denvergazette.com

Office Building Conversion.  For several months now, there has been talk of converting vacant downtown office buildings into housing.  The idea is that this would provide affordable housing and activation to downtown.  Based on several factors, the city is looking at 16 office buildings for possible conversion.  Some of those office buildings are located in Upper Downtown. Two being considered are Republic Plaza and Capitol Center.  The City and County of Denver has launched the Upper Downtown Adaptive Reuse Pilot Program to further study office building conversions.  UpDoNA’s Safety & Quality of Life Committee is reaching out to the city to get more information about the pilot program. 

Get Involved!  Volunteers Needed.  UpDoNA’s committees continue to do amazing work to address the issues that we face in Upper Downtown.   Whether it’s keeping Upper Downtown safe and clean or helping organizations provide services to the unhoused, our committees are up to the task.  Currently, we need more volunteers for our Social, Membership, and UpDoNA Cares Committees.   Please go to updona.org to learn more about all our committee.  Use this link to become a volunteer https://updona.org/become-a-volunteer/

Talk to you again in October!

Lisa L. Pope



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