Denver to Invest Heavily in Housing and Homelessness Projects in 2022

Fresh off finishing a five-year strategic plan, the Denver Department of Housing Stability has released the framework for how it will address homelessness and housing instability and affordability in the coming year. A big part of that plan: money.

"These are some big things to get done in the next twelve months of 2022, but we continue to do this work, and it’s about building and adding," says Britta Fisher, the city's chief housing officer and head of the Department of Housing Stability, created by Mayor Michael Hancock in October 2019 to centralize the city's focus on housing and homelessness issues.

The 2022 plan, still in draft form, sets numerous goals for HOST, including creating and preserving more than 1,400 affordable rental and for-sale homes; serving more than 6,000 households with stability assistance, such as rent and utility assistance and eviction legal defense; and housing at least 2,300 households.

The draft also calls for extensive use of federal recovery funding, spending it on safe-camping sites, safe- parking sites, tiny homes and other resources. HOST plans to also expand outreach to people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, and make sure that shelters are better suited to the "diversity of residents' needs," according to the plan.

All of these goals will be accomplished by "centering residents with lived experience in communications and engagement efforts," according to the plan, and also by "establishing data and reporting tools to report plan progress."

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Denver's homelessness situation, with an estimated 1,500 people living in unsheltered settings in the city.
click to enlarge Britta Fisher guides Denver's approach to housing and homelessness. - CITY OF DENVER
Britta Fisher guides Denver's approach to housing and homelessness.
City of Denver
Homelessness is a controversial topic in Denver. Advocates and service providers contend that the city is too harsh toward people living on the streets, specifically pointing to sweeps and their ineffectiveness. Meanwhile, some residents and business owners charge that Mayor Hancock's administration is too lax about people living on the streets.

But Hancock, who didn't invest heavily in homelessness during his first years as mayor, has begun pouring resources into the issue. The 2022 plan notes that HOST is projecting a budget of over $270 million, thanks in large part to federal emergency relief money. But $142 million is coming from non-COVID recovery resources, which is "absolutely" the largest amount the city has dedicated from its own coffers to housing and homelessness, according to Fisher.

Aside from this increased spending, service providers cite other victories. For example, the Social Impact Bond housing-first program that the city supported and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Mental Health Center of Denver ran from 2016 through 2020 was very successful, housing 365 homeless individuals. The success of the Social Impact Bond program "really showed that a housing-first approach worked," Fisher notes.

Additionally, nonprofits have been able to set up safe-camping sites in various locations across the city for people experiencing homelessness that include uniform individual tents and centralized sanitation and services. By some time in January, the Colorado Village Collaborative, the organization running the sites, expects to be able to house up to 300 people. And the Hancock administration and Denver City Council have become strong supporters of the safe-camping sites, with the city earmarking $4 million in federal funding for the program.

"I’m excited about trying new things. I think Denver community members have been asking us to do more, faster, and try things. I think the safe outdoor spaces that we’re doing with the Colorado Village Collaborative, I’m excited to see how our first one on city property goes. I’m excited to see how more sites go," says Fisher.

Earlier this month, Denver City Council approved a Five-Year Strategic Plan for HOST — which has grown from sixteen employees upon its creation to about eighty employees — that will guide the department through 2026.

While the plan extends many of the goals of the 2022 plan, it has more ambitious targets, too, including cutting unsheltered homelessness in half by the end of 2026. It will also provide guiding policy for a new mayoral administration when the term-limited Hancock leaves office in mid-2023.

"It’s been quite a ride on this job in the last three-plus years, and I'm really so pleased that Mayor Hancock picked me for this role," says Fisher. "I’m just so privileged to work on this big city team that is so compassionate, and our team here at HOST that is learning, growing and working every day to provide a healthy, housed and connected Denver."

HOST will hold a public meeting regarding the draft plan at 5:30 p.m. on December 2; find more information here.