Moving Forward

On November 9th, I awoke and did not want to get out of bed. To be honest, with several weeks passing, I am only now beginning to be able to process the news without a feeling of deep depression. I am trying to sort out my own perspective.

There are so many responses. I’ve seen deep seated resignation with an underlying sentiment of disappointment – “I knew it all along, of course this was the only outcome.” I’ve seen others invigorated, saying “we’ve been here before and know how to fight” or “this is our call to come together in action.” I’ve seen us attacking each other for being too progressive, for not being progressive enough, for taking action, for not taking action. I’ve seen us bringing together our constituencies and trying to make sense of this separately and together. I’ve seen us obsessing over each new element of news, each new statement and each new appointment. I’ve seen us avoiding avoiding news altogether, trying to pretend this did not occur.

As the white leader of an organization focused on racial and economic equity, I often struggle with whether I should be in this role for Mile High Connects. I am also reminded that it is imperative that as a white person, I use my privilege and the access that I have as a result of that privilege to tackle social inequities. These election results and the role that people who are white played in this outcome mean that is true today more than any other.

This one thing I am sure of is that Mile High Connects stands with and values communities who are most under attack. We will continue to fight for protections of civil rights and for protections and supports for those who are disadvantaged. We will stand with immigrants and refugees, with people of color, with people of all sexual and gender identities, with women, with people who are poor, with people who speak other languages and those worship in a variety of ways. We will use our resources and our power to continue to drive toward equity in our region and our nation.

Let us come together. Let us build power together. Let us show compassion together. Let us lift up justice today and every day.

The Denver Foundation & Mile High Connects: Working to Advance Equitable Communities

In addition to being the fiscal and physical home of Mile High Connects, The Denver Foundation (TDF) is a strong partner in MHC’s efforts to ensure that the Denver region’s communities offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. As a member of the MHC Steering Committee, TDF helps to guide MHC’s overall strategy, and TDF’s Economic Opportunity program provides supports MHC’s core activities through an annual grant. The two organizations also work together on the ground through specific projects and partnerships to advance both groups’ missions.

One of the many areas in which TDF and MHC work closely together is in developing a network of anchor institutions throughout the region that are focused on building community wealth in the neighborhoods and places in which they are located. Educational and health care institutions, as well as municipal governments, are deeply anchored in particular communities. They have tremendous potential to be economic anchors for these communities, especially by approaching their hiring and purchasing through a local lens. Sprawling campuses like the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora contain within them thousands of jobs, and they spend millions of dollars on everything from sophisticated medical equipment to hospital scrubs, food, office supplies, and services like childcare that their employees need to be successful at their jobs. MHC and TDF identified educational, health care, and municipal institutions throughout the Denver region that are easily accessible through the region’s mass transit system, and invited them to meet together in early April 2016 to discuss how they might work together to strengthen the communities in which they are located.

Institutions such as the Anschutz Medical Campus, Regis University, St. Anthony’s Hospital, the University of Denver, and the University of Colorado’s Denver campus have all indicated their interest in supporting the neighborhoods and residents in their surrounding community through a variety of strategies. MHC and TDF are working with some of the individual institutions to help them develop hire local programs, which may include training for those facing barrier to employment to qualify for jobs with the institution, and to review procurement policies to determine where their supply chains can be adjusted to focus more on local businesses. MHC and TDF are also developing a broader strategy to connect these institutions in an anchor network that will develop strategies to collectively harness their hiring and buying power in ways that will benefit the region’s most vulnerable residents and communities.

MHC and TDF are also both committed to developing solutions to the accelerating problem of involuntary displacement through gentrification that is occurring in many Denver neighborhoods. TDF has a long history of supporting community organizing and of organizing directly in many neighborhoods in which residents are now under intense financial pressure because of rising rents. In communities like Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea, where transit oriented development is also contributing to skyrocketing housing costs, MHC and TDF are working with community partners to support grassroots strategies to help residents stay in their homes.  In Westwood, MHC and TDF have worked together to provide relocation assistance to very low-income residents of a manufactured home park who were displaced by new development.

The list of partnerships and joint projects could go on and on.  The Denver Foundation is proud and honored to be MHC’s partner in improving the quality of life for all of Metro Denver’s residents.

MHC Updates

Affordable Fares 

In the course of longer-term campaigns, there are always periods of time where the detail work needs to get done and the public face gets a little quieter. For Mile High Connects and the Affordable Fares Task Force, we are in just such a moment. After productive continued meetings with RTD senior leadership team members in January, March and April, the Task Force is working through the more specific nuances of formalizing partnership with agencies already conducting means testing to provide income-qualification for the program, as well as continued work to secure external resources to match the anticipated foregone fare revenue for RTD at the program’s launch. We anticipate this work to continue throughout the summer months and invite all who are interested in this part of the conversation to join us as we work through the many technical, technology and policy components.

Meanwhile, conversations about adding a transit benefit to the MyDenver, card issued to thousands of DPS students each year, are picking up steam. While there is still much to explore, there is good energy around addressing the transportation affordability challenges for Denver youth, as it relates both to school choice and to supporting youth employment, internships, after school programs and other things that relate to overall well-being.


First and Last Mile Connections & Accessible Transit

Since March, the Montebello Organizing Committee (MOC) has worked closely with a group of key community stakeholders convened by Denver City Councilwoman-at-Large Debra Ortega to create a new bus stop that will take the place of the former Park-and-Ride near Peoria Street and Allbrook Street. The primary goal of the group was to ensure that the bus stop is safe and accessible to local riders. In addition to MOC and members of Councilwoman Ortega’s staff, the group included representatives of RTD, Denver Public Works, Denver District 11 City Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, Denver Police Department District 5, Denver Fire Department Station 27, and Mile High Connects.

As a result of this work, Denver Public Works has identified several actions that it will take immediately, as well as mid- and longer-term actions to improve pedestrian safety, traffic flow and emergency vehicle access. In addition, RTD will conduct a point check at the new bus stop to count the number of pedestrians crossing the street to use RTD service. The success of the project demonstrates the effectiveness of a strong collaborative process and commitment to its goals by all members of the group.

MHC Updates

MHC Grant Fund

We are excited to release our funding guidelines for the Equitable Initiatives in The Denver Region grant fund for 2016. The deadline for applications is June 1, 2016, 5:00 MT.

We will offer two grant application workshops in 2016. Workshops are open to organizations and groups interested in learning more about the application process; please note that attending a grant workshop is not a requirement of the overall grant application process. Please RSVP to Davian Gagne, Grants & Operations Manager at dgagne@denverfoundation.org with your name and contact information of staff members interested in attending, and indicate which workshop you would like to attend.

  • Wednesday, April 20, 2016 | 10:00 am – 12:00 pm | United Church of Montbello | 4879 Crown Blvd., Denver
  • Thursday, May 5, 2016 | 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm | UFCW Union Hall | 7760 West 38th Ave., Wheat Ridge

Affordable Housing & Community Facilities

The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) has hired Beth Truby into a new Preservation Program Manager position. The program manager will work closely with CHFA staff and external stakeholders to develop a long term strategy and action plan for identifying, prioritizing, and preserving critical affordable housing units statewide. This position will serve as a connection with the Preservation Working Group (CHFA, HUD, DOH, DHA, City of Denver, Enterprise, the Piton Foundation, and Mile High Connects) and other key housing stakeholders working on specific preservation activities and transactions.  Beth brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and relationships to this role, having previously worked for the City of Denver for over 25 years managing a variety of community development and housing programs. MHC is thrilled to have Beth in this role and is grateful to CHFA for its commitment to preserving affordable housing.

First & Last Mile Connections

As communities work to solve issues related to transit, it becomes incumbent to engage with a variety of partners. Even a seemingly “simple” problem may require the participation of many different groups to arrive at a satisfactory, comprehensive solution. As Montebello residents wrestle with the closure of the existing Park and Ride near Peoria Street and Allbrook Street, many different factors come into play as RTD makes a decision about where to locate the new bus stop. Chief among these are how to provide the most efficient service to neighborhood residents who depend on this stop to access the transit service on which they depend while ensuring their safety. Other factors include pedestrian safety and accessibility, crime deterrence, traffic management and adequate access for safety vehicles. In an effort to encourage collaboration among all interests in addressing as many of these concerns as possible, Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega convened a meeting of major stakeholders including Montbello Organizing Committee members, RTD, Denver Police Department, staff representing City Councilwoman Stacie Gillmore, and management from the Village Apartment complex near the stop. High-level leaders from these organizations attended the meeting including RTD General Manager Dave Genova and Denver Police Department District 5 Commander Ron Thomas. A week after this meeting, members of the group met with representatives from Denver Public Works and Denver Fire Department Station 27 to discuss infrastructure problems and possible solutions. This process marks a major step in creating a solution that meets all needs. More importantly, it serves as a model for collaborative problem-solving that can serve as a model moving forward.

Affordable Fares & Meaningful Service Routes 

King County Sees Success in First Year of Affordable Fares

Last March, King County Washington and the Seattle area launched an innovative program called ORCA LIFT, one of the first comprehensive income-based fare programs in the county.

Chris Arkills, Transportation Policy Advisor to the King County Executive gave presentations to a variety of stakeholders including the Mile High Connects Advisory Council, Affordable Fares Task Force, RTD Board and staff and other interested elected officials. Said Arkills, “we built it into the cost of doing business. We’re a region that prioritizes equity and we know that it was the right thing to do.”

Among key findings at the program’s one year anniversary:

  • In February, 25,000 riders registered for the ORCA LIFT program. King County has been seeing steady growth in the program’s popularity, with approximately 2,000 more riders signing up very month.
  • 96% of program participants are satisfied with the program
  • People are using the card – there were almost 350,000 boardings by ORCA LIFT riders in February alone
  • 42% have increased ridership
  • ORCA LIFT riders are not putting additional pressure on the system by making buses and rail too crowded. Because people frequently ride during the day or work swing shifts, increases in ridership have been seen primarily at times that transit is running under capacity

 We thank Chris for joining us and providing us with such an interesting learning opportunity.

Grantee Highlight – Westwood Unidos

Westwood Unidos is a coalition of Westwood residents partnering with organizations to make Southwest Denver a healthier place. Westwood Unidos’ unique approach trains resident leaders to advocate for equitable resources, to organize their neighbors, and to increase civic engagement community-wide.  Currently, Westwood Unidos’ campaigns are to transform blighted streets and alleys into safe and active community places, to organize community to improve public transit options, to re-develop parks and build new parks, to build a Recreation Center in Westwood,  and to promote drinking water and good nutrition.  Westwood Unidos is pleased to announce the opening of “La Casita,” at 3790 Morrison Road, a community-run space that is open for residents to teach exercise, academic, and art classes and host support groups.
Thanks to funding support from Mile High Connects and strong partnership from 9to5 Colorado, Westwood Unidos has been able to provide dedicated efforts to increasing transit access in Westwood. Projects include cleaning bus benches, petitioning for new lights to be installed along walking routes, and staffing a successful campaign to reinstate an RTD bus route on Morrison Road. 9to5’s community organizing expertise and Mile High Connects funding support and strategic guidance were leveraged by Westwood Unidos’ Community Connector’s community knowledge, trust and relationships.  Community leaders participating in Westwood Unidos’ Built Environment Action Team kicked-off the campaign by conudcting hundreds of community surveys and learning that many residents had difficulty accessing jobs and food due to there not being any bus service in the middle of Westwood. Westwood Unidos’ Community Connector, Maricruz Herrera, along with Andrea Chiriboga Flor, from 9 to 5 Colorado, began a multi-month campaign to organize dozens of community residents who wanted increased bus access. These community members met with RTD decision-makers and went to RTD Board meetings to request that the bus on Morrison Road be reinstated. The community effort and persistence paid off. The new bus began service in May 2016, and it has been a success, with ridership above expectation. Due to the new bus route, community members living in the heart of Westwood now have a way to get to work, to the supermarket, and to the light rail station on Alameda using RTD.
Westwood Unidos is grateful to Mile High Connects for its commitment to transit equity in Denver, and to its support in the form of funding, research, technical assistance, advocacy and strategic thinking.
2015-04-26-bus cleanup

Equity on the Hill

Prepare for the Day at the Capitol by watching this recorded webinar or reviewing this presentation.

Join us at the State Capitol to talk about health equity! Connect with legislators, organizations and community members across the state. Learn more about the Health Equity Commission and the Office of Health Equity.

What is Health Equity? What is the state of health equity and disparities in Colorado? How do we apply a health equity lens in all policies?

Community members invited to participate! A light lunch is included. Organized by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Health Equity Commission and Office of Health Equity.

RSVP at: tinyurl.com/equityonthehill by Friday, March 4, 2016.

Health equity is when all people, regardless of who they are or what they believe, have the opportunity to attain their full health potential. Achieving health equity requires valuing all people equally with focused and ongoing efforts to address inequalities.

MHC Community Member Highlight

Oscar Torres, Community Member

The chicken and the egg dilemma is very vivid for me. Two months after signing my lease in Aurora, I was hired at a nonprofit organization all the way in Lakewood. Ever since, my hour and a half (each way) commute started. Waking up at about 4:30 AM every day, I have my routine and breakfast, then walk 10 minutes to the bus stop. Typically by 6:26 AM, I hop on the first bus and then is off to Downtown where I transfer to another bus that takes me to Lakewood. Public transit in Denver is amazingly reliable and punctual, and compared to where I moved from, is 100% better. Having said that, spending 3 hours daily on my commute is taxing and takes time away from more productive activities.

Working for mpowered, a nonprofit that offers personal finance coaching among other services, I realized how transportation plays a big role in people’s budgets. Car ownership is onerous and many take the bus or light rail, but for some even that is too expensive. Housing is too. In a city with tremendous growth, rents have shot through the roof and while I consider myself appropriately paid for my work, there is no pay increase that can keep up with the rent prices. Currently, I am looking for apartments near my job that can reduce significantly my commute time, but nothing is within my price range. It has come to the point where I need to consider if I spend 50% of my income in renting or continue with my long commute. Nonetheless, I am happy serving our fellow citizens and am willing to keep going the distance, but as many other also feel, it should not be this hard.

Oscar Torres is 31 years old, lives in Aurora, Colorado and is a bilingual receptionist at mpowered in Lakewood. He moved to Colorado from Puerto Rico a year and a half ago and has a background in modern languages, communications, customer service and nonprofits.

image1 (1)                      Oscar Torres

 

MHC Updates

Affordable Housing & Community Facilities

During the Building Station Areas that Build Community event in February, Denver Shared Spaces and Mile High Connects released a report looking at a handful of station areas in our prioritized geographies and the community benefits they may have to offer to the surrounding neighborhoods. The report, 2015 Community Facility Scan: Opportunities for Community-Benefit Commercial Development at Transit in Metro Denver, illuminates the assets and challenges of the station areas and provides recommendations for each. Participants also had the chance to try out the story map tool. The base layer of the tool are MHC’s prioritized station areas; it then incorporates layers of data on things such as health equity, employment, education, and existing community facilities. In addition to the data, it offers rich context for each station area, which provides a comprehensive story for the user. It also highlights recommendations to consider to increase opportunity around the particular station area. Click here to try out the story map tool. We are excited about the report and interactive tool and will continue to use station areas as touchstones for opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color.

First and Last Mile Connections

Programs embraced by municipalities provide are some of the most effective contexts for bringing about change because they represent an existing commitment by local government. The City and County of Denver is involved in many such efforts and has created new opportunities recently through which we can work as partners to enhance transit equity and accessibility. On February 17, Mayor Hancock announced Denver’s commitment to the Vision Zero Initiative, an international effort to eliminate traffic related deaths and serious injuries. Vision Zero will require new and improved infrastructure, transit and public education strategies – including those on which Mile High Connects is focusing as part of its transit equity efforts. In addition, Denver City Council has created a Sidewalk Working Group to explore issues and needs related to this basic infrastructure element that directly impacts the ability of people to access transit. The Sidewalk Working Group is chaired by Councilperson Paul Kashmann and staffed by Shelley Smith. Mile High Connects is participating in both of these efforts to help achieve our organizational goals. We urge our partners to use meetings and other events offered by these programs to inform elected officials and staff of community needs and opportunities.

MHC Partner Highlight

New Belgium Family Foundation

Recently, MHC talked with Lucy Cantwell at the New Belgium Family Foundation, funding partner of MHC.


 

Describe the NBFF’s role in MHC. What do you see as your biggest contribution to MHC and its work?
I would describe our role as primarily one of learning – there are many people and groups with deep experience in the room and it helps our work to be able to listen and learn from them.
Why does NBFF think MHC is important?
Public transportation is absolutely a necessity in our increasingly resource- and space-constrained world, but infrastructure development needs to be coupled with a real effort to make that useable by all residents – especially given the increasing economic inequity facing the US (and the world.) We think MHC is important because it is not only working to make public transportation accessible, but it also recognizes that public transportation is essentially a means to an end: a way of getting to work, to school, to healthcare, or healthy food. By working at the intersection of those needs and transportation, MHC helps advance a vision of the modern city that is accessible and supportive of all residents.

What’s the biggest thing that the NBFF has learned or way your organization’s own work has grown as a result of being involved with MHC?
The clear-headed emphasis on equity that MHC has championed has been a role model for the NBFF as we continue to refine our vision for the foundation.

Building Stations Areas that Build Community

Last week during the Building Station Areas that Build Community event, Denver Shared Spaces and Mile High Connects released a report looking at a handful of station areas in our prioritized geographies and the community benefits they may have to offer to the surrounding neighborhoods. The report, 2015 Community Facility Scan: Opportunities for Community-Benefit Commercial Development at Transit in Metro Denver, illuminates the assets and challenges of the station areas and provides recommendations for each. Participants also had the chance to try out the story map tool. The base layer of the tool are MHC’s prioritized station areas; it then incorporates layers of data on things such as health equity, employment, education, and existing community facilities. In addition to the data, it offers rich context for each station area, which provides a comprehensive story for the user. It also highlights recommendations to consider to increase opportunity around the particular station area. Click here to try out the story map tool. We are excited about the report and interactive tool and will continue to use station areas as touchstones for opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color.

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