Rob Squire, Lisa Pope, and Sue Murahata of UpDoNA’s Safety & Quality of Life Committee met with Sabrina Allie, Communications and Engagement Director, and Chris Connor, Strategic Advisor on Homelessness, from the Department of Housing Stability (“HOST”).
HOST was established by Executive Order of Mayor Hancock and began operations in January 2020. It focuses on Housing Stability in three ways. First, it attempts to prevent homelessness by providing rent and utility assistance. Second, it provides Homelessness Resolution by providing various pathways out of homelessness including Rapid Rehousing which provides housing for those who are recently homeless due to job loss, etc. Third, it focuses on Housing Opportunity by trying to create affordable housing.
HOST believes in a Housing First approach in which a person’s mental health or addiction is not an obstacle to obtain housing. However, for individuals suffering from mental health issues or addiction, HOST provides Supportive Housing. Denver’s Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond provides a studio apartment with counseling, addiction treatment, and a case manager.
During our meeting, we discussed why some homeless choose to continue to live on the streets and are resistant to assistance. Sabrina and Chris confirmed there are enough shelters to house the homeless. However, they stated that the unsheltered don’t refuse assistance because they are resistant to help or because of their addiction, but because they don’t want to stay in a shelter with 400 other individuals.
Denver shelters currently separate spouses, families, and pets. Most homeless families or those with pets do not want to be separated. HOST plans to work with its partners to provide family and pet shelters. HOST has already implemented changes to current shelters. For example, shelters used to require people to line up in the evening, join a lottery to receive a bed, and then be required to leave by morning. Now, some shelters are open 24/7 providing three meals a day, charging stations, supplies, and health services.
It should be noted that, while two reasons that service-resistant people give for refusing indoor shelter are a reluctance to be housed with many other people and a desire to stay with pets and family, Denver Police Department officers and leadership have repeatedly indicated to the Safety & Quality of Life Committee that the primary reasons are drug addiction and mental illness.
Denver’s Early Intervention Team (“EIT”), overseen by HOST, was formed to provide services to small groups of the unhoused before the situation turns into a large encampment. EIT reviews items reported on pocket.gov and addresses those issues. Currently, EIT has four vehicles and 18 permanent staff members. Soon, EIT will be adding five new case workers and four behavioral health navigators.
HOST approved its five-year strategic plan in December, 2021. https://denvergov.org/files/assets/public/housing-stability/documents/new-folder/five_year_strategic_plan_final_091321.pdf. One of the goals of the plan is to reduce the number of the unsheltered by 50%. The 2020, Point in Time study showed that 24% of the homeless lived on the streets, with 76% staying in shelters. HOST made the decision to increase the Point In Time accuracy by not only counting the homeless on the streets, but by assigning twenty, two-person teams to observe and report new types of unsheltered. The new survey will also include individuals living in vehicles. The report is expected this summer.
Photo attribution: Denver HOST website