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Denver metro leaders hope to apply lessons learned on Houston trip to Colorado's homelessness crisis

Posted at 9:45 PM, Sep 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-21 00:49:23-04

Homelessness is a problem plaguing the Denver metro area. Leaders have been trying different ways to curb the crisis, but felt like they could do more. That’s why they traveled to Houston, a city that's received national attention for its work in tackling homelessness.

The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County’s Ana Rausch says they used to have the sixth highest homeless population in the nation, but that’s since changed.

“We‘ve had a 63 percent decrease in homelessness since 2011,” she said.

Leaders from Aurora, Denver, Adams and Arapahoe Counties headed to the Lone Star State to see what they could learn and came back with new insight.

“They did it through a housing first strategy that says housing is so basic to the human condition that if you solve for housing, other things will fall into place,” said Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, who was part of the group that traveled to Houston.

Read more: Homelessness in Denver: An in-depth look into an ongoing crisis

After establishing a housing-first strategy, other services, like addiction treatment programs and job training, fell into place, Houston leaders said. It's a strategy Denver leaders praised.

“What we need to do is replicate that with a bigger scale,” said the City and County of Denver’s Chief Housing Officer Britta Fisher.

Fisher said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's budget for next year will make a big difference in tackling the homeless crisis moving forward.

“It has $43 million in housing resources and navigation. This is really going to be critical infrastructure to offer housing to people currently experiencing homelessness, not only shelter and services, but housing,” Fisher said. “We are going to offer the same type of model that they use in Houston, which is utilizing hotels and something that we're pretty comfortable with here in Denver."

Aurora City Council Member Juan Marciano, who also went on the trip, praised Houston’s ability to collaborate, calling it an integral part in addressing homelessness here in Colorado.

“So identify an existing non-profit that would be a one-stop shop for everything and re-direct those resources to providing what we are missing,” said Marciano.

The City and County of Denver wants to point out it will likely take longer for Denver metro to see Houston-level success because of Denver's high cost of living. The group will head to San Antonio, Texas, next month and then evaluate next steps.