Homeless individuals sheltering at the former Quality Inn hotel on Zuni Street in Denver were told Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, that they had to move out. The Quality Inn in Denver, leased from the private owner by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, provided rooms for those over 65-years-old and people at greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness. The hotel rooms offered homeless people security, privacy, and stability. The programs, however, did spark a national trend of states and cities purchasing hotels to convert into permanent housing. (Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post via AP)
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DENVER | As Charlie Gilmore collected his belongings Friday to leave the Denver hotel that had been a home to him and 137 other previously homeless people during the pandemic, he pondered where he would spend the night.

The 58-year-old is one of thousands of people without homes across the country who found relief in motel rooms during the pandemic, but are now facing uncertainty as the hotels close, special government funding during the pandemic dwindles and leases come to an end.

Cities from Anchorage to New Orleans have ended or are winding down their hotel programs, which offered a good alternative to packed homeless shelters amid the spread of COVID-19.

“Somewhere down the road here there’s a bunch of cedars,” said Gilmore, pointing to nearby trees while sitting atop a neon sleeping bag rated for freezing weather as Denver’s winter looms.

The Quality Inn in Denver where Gilmore lived was leased from the private owner by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. It provided rooms for those over 65-years-old and people at greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness during the pandemic.

Opened in April 2020, FEMA funds directed through Denver to the Coalition helped keep the hotel running over the past 2 1/2 years. But the $9 million total spent on the lease and an additional $5 to $6 million in operational costs became unsustainable, said John Parvensky, president and CEO of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

“We are kind of in a Catch-22,” said Parvensky, who said case management is still being provided to Quality Inn residents. “It wasn’t designed to be a long-term fix.”

Some leaving the Quality Inn in Denver have found permanent housing, others are moving into shelters, some are back on the street, and a few are moving into temporary hotel rooms paid for by Housekeys Action Network Denver, or HAND, which started a GoFundMe page to buy camping gear and fund hotel stays. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is also pitching in.

As of Sept. 12, only 57 of the inn’s 138 residents had some type of temporary or long-term housing lined up, according to a letter from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. Updated numbers from the organization are not yet available.

Anjanette Gallegos, 54, who sat in front of the beige Quality Inn on Friday in Denver, was waiting for a Lyft ride to move into a new apartment she had secured, but said leaving the community was bittersweet.

Having couch surfed before the pandemic, having her own room was a godsend.

“A home’s not a home unless you can call it your own home,” Gallegos said.

Brett Sterba, another Quality Inn resident, said he didn’t yet know where he would pitch his tent Friday night, but plans to eventually return to a Denver street corner where he twirls a sign with smiley faces for some cash.

“It kind of bums me out,” he said of the hotel’s closure. “I thought it was going really well and it’s too bad they don’t have something more permanent like this.”

Terese Howard, an organizer for the Housekeys Action Network Denver, believes that the hotel’s operations should have been extended.

“If a year or two ago this effort had gone toward finding permanent housing, this could have been avoided,” said Howard.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has purchased a Denver-area hotel and is in the process of acquiring a second for permanent housing as part of a wider trend across the country — spurred by the success of pandemic-era programs — to convert typically tourist lodgings into long-term options.

Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said that while it is sad to see the temporary housing in hotels close, it provided an important blueprint for homeless advocates around the country.

“It really taught us a lesson in how we could really address this problem in a way that is comprehensive and fundamental,” he said.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Project Homekey” program grew out of what the state called Project Roomkey — an initiative that housed homeless people in hotels up and down the state. “Project Homekey,” which started in June 2020, is turning vacant motels, hotels and other unused properties into permanent supportive housing. The state buys the properties, coverts them and gives them to local governments that then contract with local providers for needed services.

Newsom last month announced nearly $700 million from the program for 35 new projects. That brings the total to more than 200 projects projected to create more than 12,500 permanent and interim homes.

Newsom said last month that the program “is changing lives across the state” and called it “a model for the nation.”

Whitehead and Ann Oliva, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said the main barrier to expanding hotel accommodations for the homeless is funding.

“I would lay the blame at the feet of the federal government,” said Whitehead. “We are back to business as usual, not providing enough resources for the problems.”

Oliva highlighted that the private rooms offered unhoused people security, privacy, and stability, and increased their likelihood of finding permanent housing.

“It’s got to be devastating for somebody to have gotten some measure and ability to have stability and some comfort in their lives to be exited from a program like that,” she said. “It’s what we didn’t want to happen.”


Associated Press writer Donald Thompson contributed to this article from Sacramento, Calif.


Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Bedayn on Twitter: @bedaynjesse


13 replies on “Pandemic homeless hotels close, sending some back to streets”

  1. Oh look. Right as an explosion has 300+ people added to the streets, this happens also. If months ago the City had committed to more projects to aid people instead of relying on hype speeches and attempts to rebuild what doesn’t work now, the city might’ve stood a chance here. Did they forget these things were expiring? Did they forget how many more people were about to end up right onto the streets? Or were they just too busy with political squabbling and attempts to increase their own popularity? I wonder, will it finally come back to bite them now, when the failures and ineptitude of their choices come back to bear? These things would’ve happened regardless. However, if planned for in advance these people might’ve had temporary places to go. Instead, the few extra pallet shelters added since February when I first began speaking to the Council were immediately full. There is no extra room for these people. Perhaps, for choosing to fail them all, the Council should be forced to let these people camp in their yards instead of the taxpayers’. Maybe that will inspire them to try harder. But because many are both weak and selfish, I doubt it.

      1. More people when it comes to homelessness pushes the problem outward. Theres already tons of stories about how failures to act in every surrounding area is pushing more towards Aurora. My point here is simply that they argued better options back months ago, but stubbornly fought to waste time instead. Now, with all these expanding issues that will impact the numbers of homeless and desperate people on corners everywhere around here, now they wanna turn around and try to start what they said wasn’t “cost-efficient enough” then. How much easier would dealing with any issue surrounding this be if the process was started then instead of now? How many more people might be helped, how many less complaints might there be? Their failure here is the obvious one. They lack foresight and the ability to do anything more than react to crisis. It will be highlighted the more people find themselves on the streets of Aurora.

        1. No, that’s simply life in a deep blue urban area when pathological altruism and self-indulgent hedonism ignores reality and outstrips resources.

          1. Did you just try to use altruism as a negative quality? Republicans truly are self-absorbed narcissists.

          2. Hey, it’s not my side whining that thieves might have to spend time in jail. That’s all you. And no, altruism is not a positive quality in and of itself when it results in empirical harm to society.

            All I have to do to see the results of pathological altrusim is read the Denver papers on rising crime, homelessness, and the increasing stink of economic and social desperation, as in similar deep blue paradises like Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Seattle.

          3. Blaming it simply on one Party or another is refusing to acknowledge the problem. If one Party could’ve fixed the issues the City faces, the people would’ve already elected representatives that would fix it. But politics is like a party in the swamp. It might seem fun an exciting at first, until people start getting chomped, and nothing is done about it. Blue by itself is not the answer, but neither is Red. Their limited, selfish positions are all they will support. It is about time to drain all this filth out of our City.

            Also, just gonna add here. Constantly defending actions you know to be wrong simply because that’s the side you choose to vote for, even if they abuse their Powers and the law. That makes you one thing, and one thing only. A dick rider. Own your choices, and enjoy the taste then.

          4. There is more to life than politics. Your comments show you blindly support a thing simply because it has a “D” associated with it. Ideology is no way to evaluate goodness…..it always obscures the truth. When the fog of politics lifts from your brain you will see that both parties are the same and they both use people to achieve their common goals.

          5. Ignoring reality to harp on fake “both sides” and “oh, politics is so horrible” deflection doesn’t actually solve problems.

            Own your choices, and enjoy the taste then.”–Haha, please. Looks like your side is already hoovering up its own cooking. There’s no reason I or anyone who supports high-trust societies wants to indulge in that.

          6. I don’t have a “side”. That’s where you misjudge me. I dont support what either Party has done to Aurora. Personally I feel like the decision has been, “Accomplish nothing and pretend to care or accomplish nothing and be a blatantly selfish piece of shit”. Because I dont agree with either of these policies, I dont support those who support such behavior.

            And all “high- trust socieities” ever seem to indulge in is fancy dinners. I’d be happy to work with anyone from any Party, but not for as long as pissants with more money than dignity, decency, or sense are the ones managing things. Especially since, most of you couldn’t stand to me alone and bare-handed to defend your supposed “opinion”. Only anonymous, safe behind walls with the Police on speed dial. You are weak, sorry, and my respect for such is nonexistant. If you don’t like me, blow it out your high society ass.

  2. Wow! 2 1/2 years of pandemic assistance and many still have not made the effort to bring their situation to even a basic subsistence level. This is proof that homelessness will never be solved by codling. It requires motivation and and a reward vs. punishment choice. If people can’t get on their feet with 2 1/2 years of total support they are not motivated properly.

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