Is growing homelessness, addiction and rampant crime the new normal? Or can we be honest about the problems and develop solutions to build a brighter future for Jefferson County? Tougher laws and sentencing to keep criminals off the streets? Reduce expensive regulations that are driving up the the costs of energy, housing, and health care? Federal and state policy solutions such as these might be first of mind and would certainly help. But relying upon hyper-partisan legislators too often obsessed with political posturing to fix our challenges is a recipe for frustration.
Let’s not wait. Building a better Jeffco can start locally and it can start quickly. We see momentum all around us. Concerned citizens who take pride in their community are working to make a difference. Sustainability advocates meet. Mentors tutor kids. Citizens concerned about Bear Creek Lake Park’s future organize to oppose a plan to flood the park.
Let’s harness that pride and energy. That’s why I plan to work with local business and community leaders to launch a charitable effort in 2023 to improve the quality of life in Jeffco by tackling the city’s growing homelessness problem. While there’s a role for Jeffco elected officials in this effort, I envision a largely privately organized and funded effort.
Why choose to address homelessness? Aren’t there other issues that need to be addressed?
First, there is widespread support for reducing homelessness. Jeffco citizens at the county and municipal levels have a rich tradition of working across party lines. Reducing homelessness is an issue that has the potential to bring out the best in Jeffco residents and unify our community.
Second, let’s take on challenges on which we can realistically make a difference. Excellent planning coupled with modest resources can produce measurable results in reducing homelessness.
Homelessness is a regional (and growing national) problem. Across the Denver metro area, homelessness is up 13% in just the past two years. Once concentrated in downtown Denver, homelessness is increasingly plaguing suburban communities. Homeless camps are a blight on the city, reduce property values in affected neighborhoods, and hurt our business climate. Businesses do not like to locate in areas with large and/or persistent homeless populations.
A lack of affordable housing contributes to the problem, but homelessness is a complicated problem. Many homeless individuals struggle with mental health and addiction issues. Taking on the homelessness challenge requires a mix of compassion and toughness.
There is an important niche to fill in developing and funding one or more residential centers for the city’s homeless population. Currently, several small and devoted charities provide housing and food for the homeless. They are valued partners in the community, but they have insufficient beds for the growing homeless population. The goal is not to displace these excellent charities; rather, we must aim to partner with them to learn what has been effective and help them grow to serve the most in need. Mean Street Ministries in Lakewood is one example. For 22 years Pastor Frye has been serving our city’s most at need with food, shelter, showers, and counseling. We need to leverage his hard lessons learned to address this growing crisis.
This effort can serve as a portal for citizen engagement in the community. Let’s stop looking to Washington, D.C. and our State Capitol in Denver for all the answers and look inward. Change starts with us. Let’s make a difference for Jeffco.