After Audit, Hancock Proposes New Homelessness Department

After Audit, Hancock Proposes New Homelessness Department
Brandon Marshall
Denver’s efforts to address homelessness and affordable housing should be united under a single new city department, says Mayor Michael Hancock.

Hancock announced his proposal for a new Department of Housing and Homelessness today, April 19, at the city’s fifth annual Denver Housing Forum at the Hyatt Regency Convention Center.

“We need the structure within city government to bring all the necessary resources to bear, to tackle the challenges our residents in need are facing,” Hancock said.

The formal announcement came one day after the release of an audit report on the city’s homelessness programs by Denver Auditor Timothy O’Brien, which criticized its “fragmented and understaffed” approach. But Hancock said on Friday that planning for the Department of Housing and Homelessness began more than a year ago.

“For the past eighteen months, we have taken a deep dive into the structure of our housing and homelessness programs, to better align them with the needs of the people we serve,” he told forum attendees.

O’Brien’s audit faulted that structure for being spread too widely across different entities in city government. Homeless services are currently divided between two agencies in two separate departments: Denver’s Road Home, a division of the Department of Human Services, and the Office of Housing and Opportunity for People Everywhere, created by Hancock in 2016 and later placed under the Office of Economic Development.

“By bringing these two agencies together under one roof, we will connect our full spectrum of services – from housing for those experiencing homelessness to affordable home ownership, and everything in between – while aligning and leveraging the city’s resources in these areas," Hancock said.

Nearly 3,500 people experiencing homelessness lived within Denver city limits last year, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, and the issue has been a major topic of debate as the city prepares to hold municipal elections on May 7.

At least a half-dozen city agencies and commissions have been formed to address homelessness in Denver since 2003, including the Office of HOPE, former Mayor John Hickenlooper's Commission to End Homelessness and two different advisory committees convened by Hancock. In spite of these efforts, Thursday's audit report found, the city has failed to implement a "comprehensive strategic plan" with specific goals and performance metrics.

On Friday, Hancock called the Office of HOPE an "important experiment" that helped city officials learn how to better approach issues of homelessness and housing, and pledged that a new strategic plan would be developed alongside the new department, which he said will be launched sometime in 2020.

“We want a lot of community engagement as we set this up,” he told attendees at the Housing Forum. “I look forward to working with you as we journey toward a structure that supports improved outcomes in our city.”
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff