Thomas Jefferson

High School | Home of the Spartans

Tensions and Triumphs at the Tamarac

Posted 03/04/2024 by Brady Vinlove

The old Embassy Suites building near TJ has been converted into a shelter for unhoused families as part of Mayor Mike Johnston’s House1000 initiative. photo by Ravi Apte

A new homeless shelter in the TJ community is helping unhoused families find stability, but community members have concerns.

Homelessness is a major problem in Denver and one that may be familiar to members of the TJ community. There have been six reported homeless encampments near the intersection of I-25 and Hampden, according to the City of Denver. City officials have attempted to alleviate this problem by establishing a shelter within the area. Already, the shelter has helped local families, but community members have voiced worries. 

As part of his campaign promise to end homelessness in Denver, Mayor Mike Johnston started the House1000 initiative which aimed to move 1000 people experiencing homelessness off the street and permanently close encampments by the end of 2023. The initiative focused on creating micro communities and converting old hotels into shelters in order for people to have stability and gain access to affordable housing. One such hotel that the city purchased is the old Embassy Suites at 7525 East Hampden Avenue, which has about 205 rooms and cost the City $21 million. 

The shelter, now called the Tamarac Family Shelter or The Tamarac, is only for families, which the City defines as at least one adult and one minor. At least 100 families have already moved from the Denver Family City Shelter at the Comfort Inn and Suites on Quebec Street to the Tamarac. The City of Denver explains that the Tamarac Family shelter focuses exclusively on families and has more space, meaning unhoused families will have better access to the services they need to secure permanent housing. Additionally, there have been several complaints from residents at the Comfort Inn shelter about a lack of safety and support resources, a claim supported by a stabbing incident in October at the shelter. The Salvation Army, which oversees several other shelters within the city, operates the shelter and provides 24/7 staff, mental health and substance abuse services, employment services, and other amenities. 

In mid-December of 2023 a community meeting was held at Hamilton Middle School to provide information about the shelter and answer community members’ questions. Presenters ensured attendees that the shelter would be staffed around the clock and that the Salvation Army has previously helped unhoused families gain stability. Many questions regarded the designation of the shelter for families. Mayor Mike Johnston affirmed that the shelter would only be for families and regarding safety concerns, stated, “the folks that you are talking about that you’re worried [may] have a negative impact on your neighbors are one and two and three and four year olds.” Local residents and business owners also expressed fears regarding the safety of the neighborhood and property values decreasing due to the existence of the shelter. Johnston explained that the shelter would not accept walk-ups and would decrease the amount of encampments, meaning safety in the area will increase. He also brought up examples of areas with converted hotel shelters where property values actually increased compared to the rest of the city. 

Despite attempts to civilly discuss the shelter, the meeting became loud with many attendees shouting their criticisms about the project and the mayor’s work regarding homelessness so far. However, some community members were in support of the shelter as a way for children to move off the streets and welcomed the families with open arms. One DPS teacher present at the meeting explained the importance of housing stability for student success and supported the shelter for being able to help families and children in this way.

However, already the shelter is facing some challenges and safety concerns. For one, the shelter is understaffed and struggling to keep up with the demand of Denver’s homelessness crisis. Additionally, two stabbings occurred on the property at the end of January, confirming neighbor’s fears and inciting further alarm. According to FOX 31, one stabbing occurred on January 26th with causes related to domestic violence. A second stabbing happened the next day and caused a large disturbance with several emergency vehicles present and arrests made. Both stabbings were not fatal but drew large police presence and community attention. The Mayor’s office explained that the shelter has 24/7 security presence and security measures to increase safety. Still, community members are concerned and even believe the shelter is not adequately protected. 

Denver’s homelessness problem is large and complex, but a shelter in the TJ community is helping the problem. While it is meant to help children and families gain stability, local residents have safety concerns and are frustrated with the City for establishing the shelter without much of their input. With all of the turmoil and potential surrounding the shelter, the future success of the Tamarac remains to be seen.