May 26, 2021 City Building

Homelessness through a lens of Mobility. What we see now that we didn’t before.

This blog post was submitted on behalf of the first cohort of CityRise’s Project Propel.

This Spring, the Downtown Denver Partnership launched Project Propel, a cohort-based think tank that aims to tackle some of Denver’s most pressing issues. The inaugural cohort of Project Propel was challenged to confront and analyze mobility as it relates to homelessness. We all want progress, and fast, but we also know there is no silver bullet and no one-size-fits-all solution in addressing homelessness.

First, for many of us team members, analyzing mobility after 2020 felt ironic, and even difficult—many of us were homebound for over a year, vacations and trips were cancelled, the mileage on our cars barely increased, and it seems the only thing that was mobile in the last year was the Amazon truck and Zoom’s stock price. Notwithstanding, analyzing the affect of mobility on homelessness made our group more aware of the privilege we all benefit from, and also helped us to understand just how complex a problem our city is facing.

During its first week, our group was given a simple definition of mobility: “the ability to move freely from Point A to Point B.” Not surprisingly, as our group progressed through the four-week program, the simplicity of that definition faded. Week-by-week we attended seminars and listened to speakers that challenged each member’s understanding of mobility. We ended up asking ourselves: How do different people move? Does every individual have access to the same modalities of movement? Where is Point A, and where is Point B, and why does that matter? What are people’s primary motivations for moving? And, is any movement truly “free,” or does the concept of “moving freely” inherently contain bias against individuals who utilize tools or equipment to move? These questions pushed us to recontextualize just what it means to be mobile.

Next, we were challenged to apply our new understanding of mobility to the topic of homelessness. Predictably, as we dove deeper and deeper, homelessness felt more insoluble. But that somehow seemed the point—every individual, organization, community, and municipality has felt or will feel the same way our cohort did. We felt uninformed and unqualified to tackle such a serious topic. Rather than wallowing, Project Propel challenged us to get informed, to ask questions, to consider different perspectives, and to open ourselves up to the possibility that maybe we could prompt change.

In sum, we realized that the key to the solution actually lies in the problem. The complexities of homelessness, and mobility as it relates to homelessness, demand an equally multifaceted approach and solution. 

Notwithstanding, we challenge the next Project Propel cohort to:

  1. Discover, learn, and recognize the complex, intersectional issues feeding into homelessness.
  2. Broaden its concept of mobility so that it becomes more equitable and inclusive of perspectives, experiences, and identities.
  3. Prioritize public and private partnerships, and collaboration specifically when it comes to micro-mobility, transit infrastructure, and the Comprehensive Plan
  4. Emphasize adaptability and accountability in solutions

Our group humbly recognized that we took the first step in creating a deliverable action plan for the next cohort, and ultimately, our city to follow. We realized our job is to go back into our own communities and spark the same conversations and enlightened perspectives that we now come to value.