By Peter Marcus, THE DENVER DAILY NEWS
If it’s a cost analysis you’re looking for, then consider this: Denver once spent $40,000 per year per person on homeless services — about $70 million a year.
The city now spends about $15,000 per year per person on such services.
A report released Friday by Denver’s Road Home suggests that halfway through Mayor John Hickenlooper’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, the program is seeing great success.
But leaders with the program say the second half will be just as much of a battle, especially considering Mayor Hickenlooper will be leaving his role with the city to head across Civic Center Park where he will occupy the Statehouse as governor.
Still, halfway through the plan, stakeholders can only boast success:
• Decreased the chronic homeless population in Denver by 599 — from 942 to 343;
• Decreased panhandling on the 16th Street Mall by 83 percent;
• Raised more than $46.1 million to support the initiative;
• Developed 1,961 new units of housing;
• Employed 5,253 homeless persons;
• Prevented 5,000 seniors, families and individuals from becoming homeless;
• Mentored 720 families and seniors out of homelessness thanks to community partnerships; and
• Housed 1,238 individuals through Denver Street Outreach Collaboration.
For its success, Denver’s Road Home last week was awarded the outstanding nonprofit of the year award from the prestigious Colorado Springs-based El Pomar Foundation. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also recognized the 10-year program for “best practices.”
Amber Callender, executive director of Denver’ Road Home, said the program’s success is thanks to community support and continued interest from a diverse group of stakeholders, including the business, nonprofit and faith communities.
“Together, we have worked endlessly to keep thousands of people from becoming homeless and help those already homeless by moving people off the streets and into permanent supportive housing,” Callender said in a statement.
Jon Schlegel, founder of Snooze restaurants in Denver, is one business owner who has embraced helping those looking for stability in their lives. Schlegel is open to hiring recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. He said his restaurant group mostly works with Denver-based Urban Peak, a non-profit that works with young homeless people and is part of the Denver’s Road Home network.
“Some of them have had alcohol and drug issues of the past. Most come from broken homes where they were surrounded by this type of behavior,” said Schlegel. “We hire restaurant employees who have had a problem in the past with drugs and alcohol and monitor their behaviors like our own employees. If they are good interviews, if their references check out, and if they perform at a high level in their probation period with us, we’re happy to bring them into the family of Snooze.”
Denver’s Road Home works by combining both short-term and long-term solutions. The short-term approach is to provide an adequate number of temporary shelter beds. The long-term approach includes a combination of affordable housing, as well as counseling for employment, mental health and substance abuse, to name a few.
Some have raised concerns over Mayor Hickenlooper’s departure from the city. But Callender points out that the program has already established a strong base of stakeholders, and will likely continue to thrive with a dedicated effort.
“Mayor John Hickenlooper has been a champion for Denver’s Road Home. Denver’s Road Home has become a model for the way Denver does business,” said Callender. “There are hundreds of businesses, foundations, service providers, faith-based organizations and individuals that are all committed to making sure every man, woman and child has an alternative to living life on the streets now and in the coming years.”
Denver’s Road Home, however, has its work cut out for it going forward. The program experienced a couple of recent bumps in the road, including the departure of longtime executive director Jamie Van Leeuwen who back in April left the program to serve Hickenlooper as a policy director for his gubernatorial campaign. The economic downturn also took its toll on the program, with leaders needing to rethink the ambitious program following a dramatic increase of newly homeless people and families in Denver last year.
There was a 1,970-person jump in homelessness in the Denver metro area in 2009 compared to 2006, according to a 2009 report released by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. Of that homeless group of 11,061 people, 4,924 reported being homeless for the first time.
Van Leeuwen told the Denver Daily News at the time that his program had to reshape its plan to end homelessness.
But stakeholders these days are cautiously optimistic for the future of the program.
“While we recognize the success of the past five years, we know there are still many more people that need our help,” said Patricia Wilson Pheanious, manger of Denver Human Services. “We need the emotional and financial support from our community moving forward to help the growing population of those in need.”