• April 22nd, 2024
  • Monday, 09:23:39 AM

Mayoral Candidates Address Unhoused Denverites at Outdoor Forum


Photo: Victoria Acuña for El Semanario Denver mayoral candidates heard from the city’s unhoused community and advocates at a forum in front of the City and County building, on Monday, February 20.

 

By Victoria Acuña

 

On Monday evening, Denver mayoral candidates had the chance to hear from and address the city’s unhoused community and advocates directly.

 

Hosted by Mutual Aid Monday (MAM) and Housekeys Action Network Denver (HAND), unhoused folks, advocates, and the media gathered at the front of the city council building for a dual mayoral forum and free food and winter gear distribution. After an hour of sharing meals and conversations, 13 out of the 17 candidates on the ballot for mayor sat down to answer questions on the housing crisis, encampments and sweeps, funding for organizations and resources, and other topics related to homelessness.

 

An organizer for MAM, Jess Wiederholt, opened the forum. “…when the city throws away someone’s belongings, or when we lose a friend to hypothermia, overdose, or many of the health challenges from being unhoused, we share a lot of anger for unjust systems,” she said. “We’re called Mutual Aid Monday for a reason. Monday is the night when city council meets here. We know that those who work inside of this building have the power to change things. But guess what? So do we.”

 

Photo: Victoria Acuña for El Semanario Signs advocating for Denver’s unhoused communities were placed in front of the Denver City and County building on Monday, February 20.

 

Candidates in attendance included: Lisa Calderón, Trinidad Rodríguez, Thomas Wolf, Terrance Roberts, Renate A. Behrens, Chris Hanson, Mike Johnston, Jim Walsh, Ean Thomas Tafoya, Andy Rougeot, Leslie Herod, Robert Treta, and Denise Maes, a representative for Kelly Brough. Jesse Parris, another mayoral candidate, was invited up later, however he did not get enough signatures to be on the ballot.

 

All had to stand or stay seated for “yes or no” questions during the first part of the forum. For the second portion, unhoused folks in attendance asked their own questions, allowing three candidates each to respond for a minute.

 

When the moderator asked the candidates in the first part if they believe housing is a human right, all stood except for Andy Rougeot. People in the crowd seemed confused for a while, wondering why he was the only one still sitting–he only stood to show his support for case management funding. Once the moderator noted that fact, the crowd booed. Although the moderator had to remind the crowd to let candidates have their time here and there, folks were very engaged in the forum, at times trying to hold candidates accountable against dodgy answers.

 

During the Q&A portion, unhoused folks brought up shelter conditions and curfews, drug addiction and mental health treatment, and funding for the organizers that advocate for them. Ean Thomas Tafoya said, in response to shelter questions, that “we have to be moving away from sheltering people in this congregate living. It’s not working for people, I hear this on a regular basis.”

 

“When the city throws away someone’s belongings, or when we lose a friend to hypothermia, overdose, or many of the health challenges from being unhoused, we share a lot of anger for unjust systems.”
Jess Wiederholt, Mutual Aid Mondays

 

One attendee asked, “Are you in support of sweeps or not?”, giving candidates to opportunity to share their stance on this issue in depth. Andy Rougeot answered first, to resounding boos. “I will enforce the camping ban to get people into the mental health and drug services they need…It is not humane to step over someone else’s tent, it is not humane to see someone overdose in a tent and say the answer is to leave them alone.”

 

Denver enacted a camping ban in 2012 under Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, where the 10 years that have passed since its enforcement has been dubbed the “decade of doom”. Proponents of the ban claimed that it would get people into housing, Denver has greatly fallen behind when it comes to affordable housing.

 

Candidate Robert Treta sees affordable housing as his number one issue. “You will have a private place to live, and I will build it myself if I have to.”

 

You can watch the entire forum on Mutual Aid Monday’s Instagram profile. Ballots will be mailed out on March 13. Election Day, the last day to vote, is April 4.

 

 

Victoria Acuña is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.