(MintPress) – When it comes to the quality of care homeless shelters in Denver provide for the homeless population, an assessment by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) found that though the shelters perform well, especially given that they lack funding, shelters desperately need to improve in helping people escape homelessness.
Hired by the city, NAEH examined Denver’s homeless shelters and programs after the city passed a law last year banning homeless people from camping. NAEH presented its findings on Tuesday to Denver’s City Council, which included 17 recommendations to members of the Mayor’s Homeless Commission.
According to the NAEH, the biggest deficiency in the homeless program was the city’s lack of an exit strategy. In the report, the group wrote that “there is very little re-housing assistance for people experiencing homelessness in Denver. As a result, people are in the shelter system for longer than is necessary, which puts additional strain on the shelter system. Addressing this need should be the city’s first priority.”
“The shelters in Denver don’t function as a system. They function as individual programs with their own fundraising; management; goals, outcomes and strategies,” said Norm Suchar, director of capacity building for the NAEH. Adding, that cities that make homeless programs a priority tend to have lower rates of homeless populations.
In its report, the group stated that “investing in helping people exit shelter quickly will have a greater impact, followed by the need to create a more coordinated process for accessing shelter. When a more robust infrastructure for rehousing people experiencing homelessness and a more coordinated process for accessing shelter are in place, less emergency shelter capacity will be needed, and public investment can focus on improving the quality of the shelter system, but at a smaller overall capacity.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a chronically-homeless individual as someone who has experienced homelessness for a period of at least a year, or who has experienced bouts of homelessness in the last three years and has a disability.
NAEH says the solution to chronic homelessness is permanent supportive housing along with homelessness prevention policies. “Permanent supportive housing is housing coupled with supportive services. Research and experience have shown that stable housing is often an essential component to being successful at rehabilitation, therapy, and other areas. What’s more, this intervention is cost-effective. Most people who experience chronic homelessness draw services from many federal, state and local systems, including hospitals, corrections systems, and the like. Permanent supportive housing curbs use of these systems and reduces public costs.”
Denver’s Road Home Executive Director Bennie Milliner said that though the city has work to do including increasing traditional housing, he said the NAEH assessment was “meant to be a snapshot in time of where we are as a shelter system.
“We will examine the results of the assessment in conjunction with shelter providers and decide together on a strategy for how we can best select and implement recommendations from the Alliance,” said Milliner. “Our shelters provide a great service for our homeless community, and they will be an integral part of our decision making moving forward.
“We wanted an indicator of where we were in comparison of other large cities,” Milliner said. “In many ways we are ahead, but in some regards we are behind.”
During its assessment, the NAEH also discovered that Denver invests less in programs to help the homeless population than other cities in the U.S. and as a result, offers lower-quality care services. For example, Philadelphia’s Office of Supportive Housing invests $28 million annually in its emergency shelter system, compared with approximately $2 million invested within the Denver area.
NAEH also reported that the shelter system in Denver was “uncoordinated” and didn’t give top priority to those most in need.
In Denver’s 2013 budget, about $1 million has been set aside for a new shelter and services. Denver’s Road Home plans to do its own evaluation of the shelter system soon and will have a discussion with the Homeless Commission about any next steps in April.