Denver's Road Home is nearing the end of its first decade, and the program, tied to a federal goal of ending chronic homelessness in ten years, clearly still has a long way to go. A recent audit confirmed that the city has not done enough with the $63 million it's spent to change the homeless situation.
Now the city is holding a series of meetings on the next stage, dubbed “The Way Home,” inviting community members to discuss homeless issues. The first of those is tomorrow: Thursday, April 23.
The city’s current homeless plan, a ten-year program started by then-mayor Governor John Hickenlooper in 2005, is set to end this June. Although homelessness hasn't ended, Denver's Road Home has claimed various successes, including 2,941 new housing opportunities; 2,549 individuals who have been housed through street outreach; 6,445 families and individuals kept from becoming homeless through eviction assistance; and 1,215 families and seniors mentored out of homelessness. But the city still faces shortages of shelter beds, transitional and affordable housing, and other homeless services, including access to public bathrooms.
The audit released by Dennis Gallagher's Independent Audit Committee last Thursday says the city hasn't used resources already in place to reduce homelessness, including collecting performance data. In response, the city has acknowledged that it needs to improve evaluation and suggests that it will incorporate performance data and other recommendations made in the audit in the new plan. “We appreciate the audit committee’s review of Denver’s Road Home. Many of the recommendations included in the report are changes already identified and underway within our program," DRH officials said in a statement after the audit was released.
Among other things, the audit points out that the Homeless Commission is not being used properly. Members of the Homeless Commission have expressed frustration with the city's failure to take advantage of the experience of those on the commission, which includes former homeless individuals and service providers.
When the ten-year plan was developed, the commission was more active, but since Hickenlooper resigned to run for governor and former DRH executive director Jamie Van Leeuwen left to join him, the commission's meetings became sporadic, and members felt their input was dismissed. And with the departure of Hickenlooper and Van Leeuwen, fundraising also dipped.
Denver's Road Home will hit the ten-year mark in June, and the DRH officials say they want to have their follow-up plan for The Way Home completed by then. The city has been holding public meetings to collect input; the one slated for tomorrow — the first since the audit was released — may be more heated than the first two.
The new homeless plan will grow out of the community meetings, as well as individual meetings with service providers, according to DRH officials. “Through The Way Home, DRH hopes to engage Denver’s communities, the homeless, businesses, service providers, nonprofits and others in a thoughtful dialogue about homelessness in Denver,” writes Julie Smith, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Human Services, which includes DRH.
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Upcoming community meetings on The Way Home:
Thursday, April 23, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Denver District 3 Police Station, 1625 South University Boulevard
Saturday, April 25, 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Sam Gary Library, 2961 Roslyn Street
Thursday, April 30, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at History Colorado, 1200 Broadway
Saturday, May 9, 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Regis University, 3333 Regis Boulevard
If you can't make it to a meeting, the city is encouraging online input.