Feds Give Denver $3.5M to Permanently House Hundreds of the City's Homeless

Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration has faced tough criticism in recent months over how Denver is approaching the issue of homelessness.

Many advocates have condemned crowded shelters and enforcement actions, like the controversial street sweeps that made headlines during March and April of this year, charging that the city would do better to focus resources on providing permanent housing to those without homes. This tactic for fighting homelessness is commonly known as the “Housing First” philosophy.

This week, the city announced that it will be the recipient of $3.5 million in federal grant money to do just that: help provide permanent housing solutions to hundreds of Denver’s homeless.

The money comes from a competitive grant awarded annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Homeless Assistance Continuum of Care Program.

Says Mayor Hancock: “We’ll be taking a multi-pronged approach, first getting people into housing, then addressing the underlying issues that are leading to their homelessness. Ultimately, we want to lead them to long-term recovery.”

The move comes on the heels of other efforts to pursue Housing First, including the city's announcement in January of an $8.6 million social-impact bond that will be used to house 250 chronically homeless individuals. It also mirrors recent efforts by other service providers in Denver such as the St. Francis Center, which in May began a joint project with Saint John's Cathedral to construct a fifty-unit apartment building to house homeless individuals in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.  

With the $3.5 million awarded by HUD, the city plans to split the money between five projects. Below, read each project's description, as provided by Denver’s Department of Human Services:

Combined Housing First Project – in partnership with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the $2,497,840 grant award provides permanent supportive housing, including intensive clinical case management, for 240 individuals who are considered chronically or episodically homeless. The program uses a Housing First, Harm Reduction, and Trauma Informed Care approach for persons experiencing severe and persistent mental illness and chronic substance use. The program receives direct referrals from the Denver Street Outreach Collaborative, Court to Community Program, Street to Home Program, Fort Lyons Residential Program, and 16th Street program. Through a combination of street outreach, trust building and engagement, those who are homeless and most in need are targeted for project participation. Substance use treatment services, therapeutic clinical mental health counseling, and clinical case management are provided by Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Teams who offer access to clinical care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ACT Teams are collectively responsible for ensuring that participants obtain permanent housing and have access to services needed to maintain housing and address the underlying issues contributing to homelessness. Each participant is assigned a primary case manager and a housing counselor. Individuals’ treatment plans focus on daily living skills, socialization, finances, mental health care, physical health care, and education/vocation training.

Women/Lowry Project – in partnership with the Empowerment Program and Mental Health Center of Denver, the $499,060 grant award will provide permanent supportive housing to 41 chronically homeless women living with mental illness, substance misuse, significant trauma and complex medical needs. Using a housing first model, units are leased and supportive services are initiated. Treatment (mental health, substance use, trauma therapy and medical care) and case management services are added as residents become ready to receive those services. Services are provided to assist residents in their recovery and to help them retain housing. Outcome goals include maintaining housing, acquiring and maintaining benefits and pursuing employment. The supportive services help women accessing the program develop overall wellbeing and recovery, which is tied to housing safety, stability and affordability.

Senior Project – in partnership with St. Francis Center, the $233,564 grant award will support permanent supportive housing to include rental assistance and case management for 19 disabled seniors (age 55+) who have been chronically homeless and suffer from a diagnosed disability including mental illness. This project offers one-bedroom units to individuals who meet the above mentioned criteria, and CoC funding is utilized almost exclusively for rental assistance in this project. Case managers help obtain benefits which may include: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Medicare/Medicaid; VA Medical Services and other veteran’s benefits; SSI/SSDI; and General Assistance such as Aid for the Needy and Disabled (AND) or Old Age Pension (OAP).

Mariposa Project – in partnership with the Empowerment Program, the $185,628 grant award will provide safe, permanent and supportive housing for 20 chronically homeless women who are involved in the criminal justice system and living with serious mental illness or substance addiction or abuse. The project is a component of the Chrysalis Project, which is a diversion program in partnership with Denver County Courts and the Denver City Attorney’s Office. Persons may be also referred from the Community Re-entry Project for women leaving the Denver County Jail. In addition to housing, project services include comprehensive healthcare, mental health and substance abuse treatment, employment and education services.

Dave’s Place Project – in partnership with the Colorado Health Network/Denver AIDS Project, the $83,728 grant award provides permanent supportive housing in a housing first model for 12 HIV positive, chronically homeless individuals. Residents participate in intensive case management and referrals to community resources to ensure clients are engaged in healthcare and adhering to their HIV treatments, as well as addressing mental health, substance use, employment, education, transportation, and food/nutrition concerns, as reflected in each participant’s Wellness Plan. Supporting partners include Denver Health, University of Colorado Hospital, Mile High Behavioral Council, Addiction Research and Treatment Services (ARTS), Sobriety House, Arapahoe House, Bayaud Enterprises, Jewish Family Service, Project Angel Heart, The Empowerment Program, and Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker