Report lays out plan to address homelessness

Affordable housing, connection to services crucial, task force says

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/11/21

Many groups are already working hard to address homelessness in Littleton, Englewood and Sheridan, but coordinating and expanding their services could go a long way toward addressing the complicated …

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Report lays out plan to address homelessness

Affordable housing, connection to services crucial, task force says

Posted

Many groups are already working hard to address homelessness in Littleton, Englewood and Sheridan, but coordinating and expanding their services could go a long way toward addressing the complicated task of lifting people up, according to a new report.

The Tri-Cities Homelessness Policy Group (TCHPG), a task force composed of numerous care providers and public officials from the three neighboring communities, presented an “action plan” to Littleton City Council on July 6, marking a big step in the group's years of study and planning around homelessness.

The non-binding plan offers a laundry list of ideas to address homelessness, with an estimated total cost of $705,000, with the intent to divvy up costs between the three cities and numerous state and local agencies and nonprofits.

The plan cites interviews with dozens of local people including public officials and nonprofit leaders. Interviewees said some elements of local response to homelessness are already working well, including co-responder programs that send clinicians along with local police to assist people experiencing homelessness, food distribution networks, public school outreach programs, and the growing level of coordination between local agencies.

Interviewees also expressed concerns, such as:

• A lack of funding to step up outreach.

• A sense that existing services may be underutilized because people in need have barriers to accessing them.

• A fear that the level of care needed by some severely mentally ill or addicted people may exceed the capacity of local agencies.

• And a concern that offering too friendly and effective of services to the homeless may make the area a magnet for more people from around the region.

Interviewees helped form a set of goals:

• Increasing coordination among local agencies.

• Identifying and empowering a single leadership group.

• Establishing a central access point to obtain services.

• Addressing the mental health needs of people experiencing homelessness.

• Working to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place

• Strengthening workforce development.

• And better understanding the options for low-income housing.

The plan comes at a crucial time — homelessness increased sharply during the pandemic, and studies have found that skyrocketing housing prices are among the greatest causes and barriers surrounding homelessness. Arapahoe County data shows 43 people experiencing homelessness died outdoors between January 2020 and January 2021.

The plan, built on several previous studies, found that the three cities already have numerous agencies, nonprofits and staff doing good work toward helping people experiencing homelessness, but those services could be greatly enhanced by drawing them under the leadership of a single umbrella organization.

Change the Trend, a regional consortium of homelessness outreach groups, could be that agency, the plan says.

Beyond that, the plan recommends staffing “response teams” who can develop trust with people living on the streets, identify their needs and help them access services. One important service such teams could offer would be to help people navigate bureaucracies to obtain things like driver's licenses and birth certificates.

Among the most effective and significant ways to address homelessness is, not surprisingly, getting people housed. People with stable housing are far more likely to be able to address problems with mental health, addiction, employment and other needs, the plan says.

Affordable housing initiatives could take many forms, it says, including making use of an anticipated increase in housing vouchers as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Other ideas include streamlining “safe parking” areas, which could be houses of worship that arrange to allow pre-screened and registered people living in vehicles to park there for set periods of time while they work with service providers to get on their feet.

Another concept: creating a central “navigation center” where people living on the streets can come to get connected with services and receive assistance signing up for programs. Such a center is in the works in Englewood with funding provided by the nascent South Metro Community Foundation, headed in part by former Littleton Mayor Susan Thornton.

Addressing homelessness through a comprehensive, coordinated effort is far more cost-effective than through scattershot assistance programs and first responders, said Dr. Alisa Orduña, who heads the Florence Aliese Advancement Network, which developed the action plan.

Littleton Mayor Jerry Valdes said the action plan sounded good, but he wanted to develop more specifics.

“How many families or individuals are we planning on helping?” Valdes said. “What's our (targeted) percentage of success? ... We can help some, but we can't help all.”

Littleton City Councilmember Mark Rudnicki said he was concerned the plan's financial projections were overly optimistic.

“It seems this report is long on noble and necessary goals and objectives, but short on financing specifics,” Rudnicki said. “It seems it's trying to be all things to all people.”

Samma Fox, Littleton's assistant to the city manager, said the plan is by no means the final word on addressing homelessness, nor does every recommendation need to be adopted at once.

“This is a great opportunity to look for places where we can take a chunk out of this, make a change, and start an action,” Fox said. “We can use this for advocacy. We have a path. Now we know our communities' needs and some of the opportunities.”

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