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DeGette talks opioids, housing, DACA at local meetings

Rep. Diana DeGette sits down in Denver, Englewood

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U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette took time this week to sit down with Denver-area reporters and the Englewood City Council to talk about the opioid crisis, movements on DACA policy for undocumented immigrants, housing and homelessness. She represents Denver, Englewood, Sheridan, Cherry Hills Village, Bow Mar and unincorporated areas west of Littleton.

Here's what the 1st Congressional District representative had to say at her Denver office to reporters May 3, and at the Englewood Civic Center May 4.

Help from above

States need money from the federal government to solve the crisis of opioid-substance abuse, DeGette said. She's worked recently on putting more than 50 bills dealing with different aspects of the opioid epidemic through committee in Congress. DeGette serves on the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“We shouldn't be doing 56 bills for opioids,” said DeGette, who said her committee has discussed medical treatments for addiction and community health responses. “Let's put it all into one big bill. We should do it like the Ryan White bill for AIDS (of 1990). This is a public health crisis.”

The country needs a comprehensive opioid-prevention approach, similar to the approach it took to AIDS decades ago, DeGette said. States should get money to take preventative measures, she added.

One question at the reporters' roundtable brought up fentanyl and overdoses in Pueblo.

“Pueblo is an issue, the San Luis Valley is an issue and Denver is an issue,” DeGette said. “It's not just concentrated in the urban core.”

Pushing to transition from DACA

After the Trump administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September, undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children had until March 5 before the group's legal status would largely begin to expire.

Since then, though, federal courts have temporarily blocked the Trump administration's end to the program, allowing it to continue while the legal battle in courts plays out.

“I've been working for quite some time before (President Donald Trump) got elected to try to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” DeGette said.

His attempt to end the program made that more urgent, she said.

A path to citizenship for Dreamers, a possible way for other undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship and “go to the back of the line,” and border security — but no wall along the Mexican border — is what reform should include, DeGette said.

“There's not much enthusiasm in Congress for the wall,” DeGette said.

DACA started under President Barack Obama in 2012 when the federal government decided to change how it enforces immigration law. The term “Dreamers” has been applied to young undocumented immigrants at least in part because of the title of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, first introduced in 2001 but never passed by both houses of Congress.

Roughly 689,800 people with active DACA status lived in the country recently, with about 15,500 residing in Colorado.

Struggling to stay housed

A proposal by federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson that could triple the minimum rent the poorest Americans pay for federally subsidized housing found criticism from DeGette.

“Carson announced they were going to triple the rent people would have to pay before they get Section 8 vouchers, which, in a market like this, it's a disaster for low-income people,” DeGette said. “We're hoping that doesn't make it through (Congress).”

The move risks exacerbating homelessness, an ongoing problem for DeGette's area, especially in Denver. It is also a growing problem in Englewood. A recent federal-spending bill increased HUD funding compared with last year, DeGette said, but Carson's effort would exclude large amounts of people from getting assistance.

“Especially in Colorado, where housing prices are going up,” DeGette said.

Englewood City Council is planning to look into its city's homelessness in an upcoming study-session meeting. Businesses are upset by problems they say homeless individuals have brought, Councilmember Linda Olson said.

“We have never had any resources focused on this at all,” Olson said, asking if the state or county could help.

DeGette suggested a survey or study in addition to the point-in-time counts of homeless individuals in the metro area that occur on one day per year. The opioid crisis has affected homelessness, DeGette said.

Some say homeless arrive in Englewood on Denver buses, but some grew up in Englewood schools and are local, Olson said.

“If it's an easy thing to solve, we would have solved it,” DeGette said, adding that the city should identify if the homeless have substance-use disorders, are families who can't afford housing or fall into other categories. “First, you have to figure out what the problem is.”

City officials have noticed an uptick in the city's population in the last few years.

In Englewood, a city preparing for a large financial gap, Olson said officials don't have the money to adequately take on the problem.

The city needs help from Arapahoe County and the state, she said. “We need a regional approach."

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