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Denver wants to move those experiencing homelessness directly into permanent housing

New program would provide participants with rental and utility assistance for up to one year
Homeless camp in Denver
Posted at 6:34 PM, May 22, 2024

DENVER — Hundreds of unhoused people could be moved directly into permanent leased housing under a new program the city is considering.

The city began testing the Street to Lease program earlier this year as part of Mayor Mike Johnston’s ongoing efforts to fight homelessness.

During the pilot program, the city moved 12 people from a small encampment in Council District 8 directly into permanent housing.

Right now, unhoused people who accept city services are moved into temporary housing.

The city wants to use $5 million in pandemic funding to expand the Street to Lease program.

This would allow the city to move 250 unhoused people directly into permanent housing within 30 days of outreach.

Most of the money, about $4.2 million, would be used to pay their rent and utilities for up to a year, city officials said.

“This is a program that HOST (Department of Housing Stability) has intended to deploy for some time,” said Cole Chandler, the mayor’s senior homelessness advisor.

Chandler, who appeared before the city council’s housing committee on Wednesday, said money had already been set aside for the program.

“We're now at a place where we're ready to bring it forward and implement that,” said Chander.

The city plans to contract with Housing Connector, a nonprofit focused on helping people access affordable housing.

Housing Connector will help the city identify available housing units. They will also help process payments.

“They're able to really be a strong liaison. And if there are challenges that are coming up with an individual in the housing unit, they're able to work through those and sort through those with the landlord,” Chandler said.

Like with District 8, the city would focus on providing permanent housing to people living at smaller encampments throughout the city.

“The goal is to spread them out in the city of Denver, but also give them options so that they can choose where they want to live,” said Will Goodale with Housing Connector.

Denver wants to move those experiencing homelessness directly into permanent housing

Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said the program appeared to be more promising than other homelessness programs the city spent money on.

But she and others were concerned about how the city plans to pay for the program long-term, given that pandemic funding is running out and city agencies having to cut their budgets due to the immigration crisis.

“You cannot have sustainable programs without a sustainable funding source,” said Sawyer.

Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore told Chandler there was not a lot of time left to figure out how the city would pay for this program and others that depend on pandemic funding.

“The majority of those funds are one-time funds,” said Gilmore. “They're not going to magically appear again, ever.”

Chandler said city officials were having “critical conversations” about its long-term spending plan.

“We’re evaluating that as we look forward into the 2025, 2026 and beyond budget,” Chandler said. “I think that this is a program that is worth investing in and is worth bringing into our community.”

Gilmore also pressed Chandler about the overall spending of the mayor’s All In Mile High Homeless initiative.

“We were told by May 10 we would have the numbers around what is the All In Mile High’s true operating costs,” said Gilmore.

She asked Chandler if he could tell her the annual costs of that program.

“I mean you should know it,” said Gilmore.

“We're still actively working on that,” Chandler replied. “We have a presentation for [the finance and governance committee] on June 18 where we're planning to bring those items forward,” Chandler said.

Gilmore has been seeking the spending numbers for months and said it was disappointing that she even had to ask that question in a televised committee meeting.

“This is bordering on ridiculousness now. It's embarrassing not to be able to tell a constituent what this costs,” said Gilmore. “It was early May and now June.”

Councilwoman Flor Alvidrez said she feels hopeful about the Street to Lease program and wants to know how the city is going to get participants into a position where they can pay their own rent.

“I feel like if people are investing something in this program, they'll get more out of the program,” said Alvidrez.

Chandler said the city does not require people in its homelessness programs to meet with case managers.

But he said there are plenty available, about one case manager for every 20 people.

“While it's non-compulsory, we're working actively with individuals to help them get access to services,” said Chandler.

The city council’s housing committee advanced the city’s $5 million request on Wednesday, but some council members said they were on the fence about whether to give it final approval due to concerns about its long-term funding.

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