Denver is ready to find real and sustainable solutions to housing instability and homelessness. It is time to rethink how we address living space for our unhoused neighbors, because the current situation is not working for anyone. We know that helping people get back on their feet requires stable housing by getting people inside to safe places--ones where they feel comfortable and secure. But addressing homelessness is about more than individual buildings. It’s about supporting our community as we confront difficult historical realities, forge new narratives and histories, and collectively heal.

Homelessness is not an “us versus them” issue. Homelessness is an “all of us” issue. And we get there by changing the way we talk about our unhoused neighbors. We begin by seeing people experiencing homelessness as people. As sisters, brothers, parents, artists, workers, and members of our community. We know that Denverites are compassionate, empathetic, and caring. 

In addition to increasing opportunities to bring people indoors, we will expand street outreach, addiction treatment, and harm reduction strategies to ensure that people facing a crisis are aware of these new solutions. Bold action is required to change the trajectory of the city and we can develop solutions that are both safe AND compassionate. Leslie is committed to employing evidence-based solutions that work, and ending policies that don't work so that everyone can safely come indoors and get on the path to stability in permanent housing.

What This Means


Use emergency powers to help people quickly

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Denver, like big cities across the country, has a growing number of people facing homelessness--many of whom are living outdoors. According to the most recent Point-In-Time (PIT) Estimate for the Metro Denver area, homelessness in Denver increased by nearly 13% from pre-pandemic numbers. According to data from the Denver County Court, there were 771 eviction filings in September 2022 compared to 442 in September 2021 and 495 in 2020. Hundreds more Denverites are at risk for eviction and housing instability due to economic hardships exacerbated by the pandemic and with rents increasing at enormous rates. Many of these evictions have been prevented due to emergency rental assistance which are no longer available. We will advocate for expanded rental assistance funding and work with landlords and rental associations to ease the burden on all Denverites.

Additionally, we will coordinate with all the City Departments, regional partners, state government and federal government to identify areas of improvement to get services and funding more readily available for people in need. Coordinated efforts will allow Denver to accelerate progress towards policy changes at the state and federal level. In the Colorado State Legislature, we will push for increased funding for long-term supportive housing and additional treatment providers.

Finally, we will closely watch solutions being implemented around the country to see what works and what doesn’t. No idea is off the table if it helps our unhoused neighbors and treats them as people first. We are closely watching Karen Bass’ “Inside Safe” initiative in Los Angeles, and believe there are elements of that program that could be implemented immediately in Denver--including declaring a state of emergency to address the growing crisis.

Replace failed policies with comprehensive housing, services, and safety programs

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One of the first orders of business of Leslie’s administration will be to replace Denver’s homeless sweeps with a compassionate solution that works. The current policy has failed from all sides. It hasn’t reduced encampments on our streets and it is harmful for our unhoused neighbors. Denver voters don’t want to continue with failed policies of the past. We must develop a new response that includes comprehensive housing, services, and safety programs.

In the absence of available beds, people seeking shelter have gravitated toward the safest, most hospitable places they could find – the well-lit, centrally located parks. Homeless sweeps, without comprehensive housing and safety programs, lead to involuntary displacement of people experiencing homelessness. This displacement is done without connecting people to services or housing. People are forced to disperse throughout the community, often away from services, resulting in loss of personal belongings, medications, medical supplies, identification cards, and social support. This displacement can be especially detrimental to people who also have substance use disorders as they lose access to medication treatments and prevention tools such as naloxone. We must replace these failed policies of the past with solutions that get people into safe indoor spaces and get them on the quick path to permanent housing.

Coordinated and effective person-centered care

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Denver can do better by increasing support to our outreach providers and co-responders. Currently, Denver has one small street outreach team to address the needs of Denver’s diasporic homeless population. Street outreach has been shown to help improve health outcomes among people experiencing homelessness. Additionally, DDPHE’s single mobile substance use treatment vehicle is insufficient to help get people struggling with addiction the help they need. Leslie will take a person-centered approach by ensuring that additional funding is allocated to expand street outreach to meet people where they are and get them connected to services.

Getting people into permanent housing quickly and safely

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While local shelters attempt to provide refuge and resources to people experiencing homelessness, shelters alone are inadequate to meet the needs of the population. Furthermore, emergency shelters are a vital component of the social safety net, they are not a sufficient replacement for safe and affordable housing. Further, leaving people in shelters and cycling through other emergency services is not the best way to spend taxpayer dollars.  The Social Impact Bond that tested the Housing First Model in Denver was a great success. 

Providing housing for people has been shown to decrease homelessness, decrease substance use, decrease criminal justice involvement, and help people return to work, while lowering the cost of homelessness for taxpayers. Denver has been a leader in developing innovative Housing First models and Leslie will continue to fight for housing rights for people experiencing homelessness. Under Leslie’s leadership, Denver will be the national leader in expanding the Housing First model. We will reissue additional social impact bonds that continue to build off of the successes of these programs. Leslie will use every tool available to achieve this, including using city land and underutilized properties for social housing, purchasing hotels/motels for transitional and long-term housing, conducting landlord recruitment to support federal housing vouchers, and adopting emerging innovative approaches to reduce homelessness as they prove to be effective.

Creating jobs and training programs

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Reducing homelessness is good for individual people and good for the economy as a whole. More people in housing and receiving services means healthier streets and a healthier workforce. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people with lived experience were employed as vaccine ambassadors with great success. In fact, people with lived experience are often the best people to help others navigate out of substance use and homelessness. Leslie will invest in a Lived Experience Corps where people with lived experience with either homelessness or mental health/ substance use challenges will be provided with public health training and job skills and employed by DDPHE to be health ambassadors and peer navigators. Ending this crisis is about ending the cycle of poverty and improving the lives of people who are struggling, which can be accomplished in part by job training and workforce development.

Everyone deserves basic human services

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With the outgrowth of unsheltered homelessness, we need to remind ourselves of the central civic role played by public restrooms and washing facilities. Denver should and will invest resources into restrooms, showers, laundry facilities and other activities of daily living that people need to take care of themselves, in turn protecting the safety, hygiene, and security of all Denverites. We will commit at least one new Wellness Winnie to this purpose.

Access to food and clean water is vital to a healthy population. Too often, children and families are without steady sources of healthy food. We will work to expand the free meal program at Denver Public Schools to ensure that no child is without food. We will also expand food rehoming programs and develop food rehoming cooperatives so that Denver becomes among the first “zero food waste” cities.

And finally, transportation is a vital aspect of alleviating homelessness. In August 2022, RTD offered free bus service. Other cities such as Boston are piloting no fare transportation. Denver has the resources to expand reduced fare bus service and explore no fare options. Providing transportation to people is one substantial way to reduce barriers to services and improving economic mobility.

Improve access for mental health services and substance use treatment

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We can do better getting people the help they need for mental health and substance use challenges. We will work with our hospital associations and community health centers to expand crisis services and long-term mental health services. Leslie has a proven track record of working on these issues through the STAR program and Caring for Colorado. She has made expansion of mental health services a priority during her time in the state legislature and will work to prioritize this for Denver.

Improve our housing culture

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Homelessness exists on a continuum and can be caused by a variety of factors. The truth is Denver housing prices are unsustainably high and it is difficult for people to enter the home ownership market. This creates a culture of housing instability and limited upward mobility. Leslie has a three pronged approach to changing the culture.

First, we need to work to prevent homelessness in the first place. For people who would like to buy but are unable to do so, we will subsidize programs such as “rent-to-own” whereby people can rent a home or apartment while part of the payment is put toward a down payment. We will also work with renters and landlords to implement rent stabilization and eviction protections.

Second, we need to end the stigma. There is so much misunderstanding and stigma related to homelessness, substance use, and mental health challenges. This stigma creates barriers for people receiving the care and resources they need. It also fractures our sense of community. In Leslie’s first year, she will develop an anti-stigma campaign that is tailored to Denverites regarding homelessness. We will work to remove the stigma of poverty in conjunction with people with lived experience.

Finally, neighborhood associations are a backbone for community building. These are places where neighbors can gather to address issues that they are facing. Too often, though, neighborhood association meetings become fishbowls of complaints. Leslie wants to change the culture of community building. We will ensure that the administration is represented at neighborhood meetings so that we can hear the concerns of citizens. Additionally, we will work with neighborhood associations to encourage an atmosphere of inclusivity.

What Leslie has already done 

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  • Sponsor of SB22-232, creating the Middle-Income Housing Authority to prioritize workforce housing for workers. Because more and more of our middle-income neighbors are struggling in Denver right now, and we need to provide supports so that more people don’t find themselves unhoused.
  • Sponsor of HB22-1389, creating the Financial Literacy and Equity Exchange program in DOLA. People with DOH housing vouchers are now able to opt in to this program and build a FLEX agreement with the department. They have power in building those agreements and taking part in the program. The FLEX program creates escrow-like savings accounts for voucher-assisted people to increase their earned income. It also provides access to service providers for financial mentoring, life skills training, and asset management.
  • Served on the Urban Peak board for 8 years, working towards solutions for youths experiencing homelessness.
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