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Report: Denver’s Bet on Housing-First Program Pays Off

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Tuesday, July 20, 2021   

DENVER -- When people experiencing chronic homelessness in Denver received free housing along with mental and behavioral health services, they were able to stay housed and saw improved health outcomes, according to a new Urban Institute report.

Cathy Alderman, chief communications and public policy officer at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said the upfront investment in housing resulted in significant savings by reducing encounters with safety-net services.

"Housing with appropriate services is going to not only improve the lives of those people being housed, and the communities in which they are housed, but it's also going to be a benefit to the taxpayers," Alderman asserted.

More than half of the program's cost was offset by reductions in public services, such as jail, detox and other emergency care.

Alderman pointed out the report contradicts claims people choose to become and remain homeless. When participants were able to access housing through the Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond initiative, launched in 2016, they remained stably housed.

Participants also saw overall health benefits, in part because they were able to access preventive care.

Alderman contended helping people address behavioral and mental-health issues is an important step toward re-entering the community in a meaningful way.

"Oftentimes people who are suffering from a behavioral or a mental-health issue, they may not realize that that is the impediment to staying stably housed, or entering the workforce, or obtaining an educational outcome," Alderman explained.

With housing costs exploding in Colorado, Alderman emphasized the time for targeted investments in homelessness prevention and resolution have never been more critical.

She sees the report as a call to action as the state continues to become less affordable for even those with moderate incomes.

"This is a model that can be used at the local level," Alderman urged. "In cities, the state could adopt it, the federal government could adopt it, and we could probably make significant changes in the number of people experiencing homelessness today."

Disclosure: Colorado Coalition for the Homeless contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Health Issues, Housing/Homelessness, and Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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