City left out in cold on closing of homeless shelter
City officials and advocates for the homeless were caught by surprise last week when the Salvation Army announced that it is closing its Crossroads overnight shelter in Denver. The decision will put dozens of homeless men — including sex offenders — on the streets, and officials are scrambling to find them alternative housing.
“We learned about it last Thursday, and the shift in service was a surprise to us,” said Jamie Van Leeuwen, project manager for Denver’s Road Home program. “We’ve been having ongoing dialogue with the Salvation Army and other homeless providers to better understand their impact on homeless services in Denver.”
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless also was caught unawares.
“We’re literally just becoming aware of this now,” said BJ Iacino, spokeswoman for the coalition. ”We’re just trying to understand what it means and what its impact on us. . . . We do not have enough information, so we’re scrambling.”
The Salvation Army’s decision last Wednesday to no longer maintain an overnight shelter at Crossroads, 1901 29th St., is part of a shift in focus toward getting homeless people into transitional housing.
“Some people have been staying there for years, and we feel that is not appropriate,” said Capt. Ron McKinney, the Salvation Army’s metro Denver coordinator. “We are giving everyone a chance to get into the transitional housing program and give them the tools for self-sufficiency. It’s their choice, but we feel we owe it to them and to our donors that we break the cycle of homelessness.”
The overnight shelter will be closed as of Aug. 10. However, after meeting with community officials, the Salvation Army will allow sex offenders to stay at the Crossroads shelter through the end of the month.
Where do the sex offenders go?
The Salvation Army opened an emergency shelter at Crossroads in 1983 and added a transitional housing program in 2005. About 70 to 100 homeless men stay at the shelter every night. Of those, about 30 to 35 are sex offenders, according to Roger Miller, spokesman for the Salvation Army.
Denver police, however, say that as of last Sunday, 129 sex offenders list the Crossroads shelter as their registered address.
“No one wants to talk about the number of beds (occupied by sex offenders),” said Ron Saunier, commander of the police department’s sex offender registry compliance unit.
He said the Salvation Army may be citing the lower number because of a new identification device that Crossroads began using last month. The device, purchased through a federal grant, uses retinal scans to verify the identity of sex offenders who check into the shelter. Only 33 sex offenders have been entered into the system.
McKinney said the Salvation Army plans to use the beds at the Crossroads shelter for transitional housing. Participants in the transitional program are assigned a case worker and are enrolled in classes to help them get a job. They also get treatment for health issues such as alcohol or drug addictions, and they can stay at a Salvation Army facility, where they get a bed and three meals a day. Thirty beds at Crossroads and 84 beds at another facility at Broadway and Champa Street are currently being used as transitional housing.
“We’ve been doing these programs for years, and they’re very successful,” said McKinney. He estimated that about 60 percent of the homeless men who are staying overnight at the Crossroads shelter will enroll in the program.
But Katherine Sanguinetti, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections, said that while many parolees may qualify for the Salvation Army’s transitional housing program, sex offenders won’t.
“I understand the program is a good one, but city ordinance doesn’t allow sex offenders in transitional living,” she said.
So, where will the sex offenders go?
Saunier said only two shelters in Denver would take sex offenders: Denver Rescue Mission, which is limited to 10 beds, and Crossroads.
“There were a lot of places that wouldn’t accept them, so it was easy to place them (at Crossroads) when they came out on probation or parole,” Saunier said.
Officials with the Denver Rescue Mission couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Saunier said law enforcement officials are looking at a 2001 Denver ordinance that may allow sex offenders to live in halfway houses. “There’s a requirement for them to register, but with a whole bunch of them, I don’t know if they would abide by that.”
Officials scramble to find alternative housing
The Salvation Army apparently made the decision to close down the overnight shelter at Crossroads without consulting city or state law enforcement officials, or for that matter, any other homeless service provider.
“I got a phone call last week from someone who was staying there, who saw posters go up, saying they were going to close the shelter,” Saunier said.
Miller said the decision to close the overnight shelter was made by Maj. Victor Doughty, who became the division commander for the Salvation Army’s western region a year ago.
“We have other shelters in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle that have gone to this program, so this is coming in line with the rest of the western territories,” Miller said.
Doughty could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
McKinney said that as of Tuesday, the Salvation Army has found alternative housing for 28 homeless men.
“We’re helping them contact relatives,” he said. “Some of the younger members haven’t had contact with their families for years.”
For others who are not willing to enter the program or are unable to qualify for transitional housing, McKinney said one option is to give them vouchers for hotel stays.
Sanguinetti said the Department of Corrections wasn’t informed of the Salvation Army’s decision until last week but has been trying to find places that would take the homeless sex offenders.
“We began working on it as soon as we heard,” she said. “We have … partners and landlords that we have worked with on transitional housing to start looking for apartments for these individuals.”
In the meantime, Saunier said there have been daily meetings since last Thursday with Salvation Army representatives, law enforcement officials and homeless providers to try to resolve this issue.
“No one wants to see anyone dumped out into the street,” he said. “There’s no place for them to sleep unless alternative locations are found, and we have a big group of people who are working to make that happen.”