Winding through the south metro area is the South Platte River, an informal thoroughfare for people experiencing homeless, where campers are common along Englewood’s west edge. With a homeless …
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This story is part of Colorado Community Media's third and final installment in a series, “No Place to Call Home,” which explores the reasons behind the rise in homelessness in Englewood and the response from various segments of the community.
To read more on how school districts, nonprofits and churches are responding — and to see the first two installments of the series — click here.
Winding through the south metro area is the South Platte River, an informal thoroughfare for people experiencing homeless, where campers are common along Englewood’s west edge. With a homeless population that appears to be on the rise in recent years, the city has joined Littleton and Sheridan — its neighbors along the river and major roads — in searching for a solution.
The Tri-Cities Homelessness Policy Group is made up of city officials, police and community organizations and began in the fall, Englewood Mayor Linda Olson said.
“Currently, the group is concerned about whether we all have the information and data we need to be competent in our policy decision suggestions,” Olson said.
Take a drive to the north through downtown Denver and on North Broadway — where street musicians and encampments are part of the fabric of life — and it won’t be all that apparent that in 2005, Denver set out on a “Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.”
Though it wasn’t for lack of trying, Denver didn’t hit that mark — and the city did not consistently gather data from the service providers it funds or adequately analyze the information to identify progress or inform its strategy, a 2015 review by the city auditor said.
“In fact, only in year ten of Denver’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness has (the program) begun to focus on analyzing the data it receives,” the audit read.
Olson and Englewood’s staff members are aware of the Ten-Year Plan, a gargantuan effort that invested $72 million in public and private funds, housed more than 2,500 people, and pulled more than 6,400 back from the edge with eviction assistance, according to a report by Denver’s Road Home, the city agency created to implement the plan. Another 1,200 were mentored and sponsored out of homelessness under the plan, according to the report.
Road Home enlisted the help of advocates, nonprofits, businesses, foundations and faith-based organizations as part of the push. Denver has worked to fill gaps in services to the homeless, particularly around behavioral health — mental health and substance-use issues, the report said.
Despite the city’s efforts, about 3,400 homeless individuals were counted in Denver County on one night in January 2018 as part of the Point-in-Time survey that takes place in metro areas across the country.
Olson couldn’t say whether Englewood’s homelessness appears to have increased or lessened within the last year, hesitant to speak on anecdotal information. The annual Point-in-Time count gathers numbers by county, not city.
“We’d all like to be in a better data-driven place in considering policies and decisions,” Olson said.
Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said housing the homeless saves money in health care and emergency services.
A study of nearly 900 individuals in a supportive housing program by Los Angeles County in California concluded that it produced a savings of $1.20 for every $1 spent, including by reducing emergency room visits and hospitalizations. The 2017 study by RAND Corporation considered costs across health and social services in county departments. A smaller 2006 study by the Colorado Coalition also suggested housing the homeless saves money.
Colorado could need a region-wide system of resources to ensure people outside of downtown Denver have access to safe places, said Alderman, whose organization provides housing, health care and other supportive services.
“We’ve actually started conversations with the governor, his office, saying maybe we need a state investment,” said Alderman, wondering if potential cost savings to the criminal justice and health care systems could be used for a state fund.
Englewood, a city that must address steep infrastructure costs, can’t put up millions like Denver or other governments.
But the Tri-Cities group, which meets monthly, will study resources and federal, state and regional funding that may be available to help tackle the issue.
The group is considering a proposal from the University of Denver’s Burnes Center on Poverty and Homelessness — under its Graduate School of Social Work — to interview people experiencing homelessness in the area to understand the underlying causes of homelessness and barriers that prevent people from getting back in housing, according to a February/March Littleton newsletter.
The “Tri-Cities group in its nascent form is searching for regional solutions,” Olson said. “But we also need to engage with other cities such as Denver and Aurora. The director of the City of Aurora’s programs addressing homelessness spoke to the group in February, providing more networking connections for us to explore and learn from.”
One move Englewood has taken was to add a mental health co-responder program to its police force last June. A counselor with AllHealth Network, which provides behavioral health services and has locations in the south metro area, rides along with officers, making contact with individuals who may face health issues to provide assistance. Littleton police also use the co-responder program.
“As a city that depends on county and state resources for social services, this is the closest our city comes in providing coordinated care from trained professionals,” Olson said.
Lynn Ann Huizingh, director of the Severe Weather Shelter Network of churches in Jefferson and Arapahoe counties, said the wisest thing cities and counties could do is “empower those organizations who are already serving” the homeless.
That could mean “supporting them financially as well as with other resources, like volunteers from their offices, purchasing material items needed by those organizations, helping organizations and agencies to identify building space, and making it easier for them to utilize” it, Huizingh said.
Collaboration among service providers, state and regional players is mentioned as a priority in the 2015 report on Denver’s decade-long plan, Olson points out. Sharing information within Change the Trend Network — a coalition of nonprofits, churches and others seeking to address homelessness in Englewood — has helped service providers and first responders better coordinate efforts to move individuals into holistic care and possible housing, Olson said.
To Englewood residents wanting to help, Olson suggested getting involved with Change the Trend.
“Become informed,” Olson said. “Read studies and join CTT on their monthly forum meetings. CTT and their affiliates are one of the best ways to engage and volunteer at this point.”
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