DENVER — More than 4,100 people called the streets of Denver home in 2020, the highest it’s been in six years, according to a Point-in-Time count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night.
On Wednesday, following more than a year of public input, the city’s Department of Housing Stability (HOST) issued a draft review version of its Five-Year Strategic Plan to reduce that number by 50%. The plan’s lofty goals also includes the creation and preservation of 7,000 homes and securing 950 income-restricted rentals.
In June, Britta Fisher, HOST’s executive director, said Denver’s current network of shelters serves nearly more than 2,200 people each night, a more than 54% increase from last March to March 2021.
"We have many of the resources needed to complete this plan but we need everyone in the community and many partners in order to achieve these bold goals," Fisher said Thursday.
Fisher said the city served thousands of people at shelters across the city and connected thousands of households with rent and utility help. She, however, admitted that shelters are not a permanent solution and said the city needs more affordable housing and community support to end the homeless crisis in Denver.
"If we don't want to have people in our streets and in our right of ways, we need to have them in housing," Fisher said.
HOST identified several factors in the plan that contributed to housing instability in Denver, including the city’s rapid growth, rising housing costs, housing-cost burden, lack of affordable housing stock and inequitable access to homeownership. HOST aims to increase equitable access to housing by way of a 14-goal plan within the five-year draft.
One of the highlights in the Five-Year Strategic Plan includes measurably ending veteran homelessness by 2026. In 2020, 627 veterans experiencing homelessness were identified across the region during the Point-in-Time count.
"We need more places for people to weather life's disruptions within their own neighborhoods," Fisher said, "so they don't have to be disconnected from their schools, their faith communities, their neighbors, friends and family."
By 2026, HOST also hopes to reduce the number of evictions filed by 25%, and increase the homeownership rate among low-and moderate-income households from 36% to 41%. They aim to do this by collaborating with partners to "promote thoughtful, long-term housing solutions" and expansion of down payment assistance programs, among other strategies.
“We are going to continue to deploy every tool available, with a goal of lifting thousands of people out of homelessness over the next two years, including those who are living on our streets in the most unsafe and unhealthy of conditions,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock in a statement. “We know what works, and we’re going to do even more and even better. This plan will further solidify housing and homelessness resources as an essential city service, while strengthening our community’s hand toward building a healthy, housed and connected Denver.”
In his State of the City address last month, Hancock said he wants to create more programs to help keep people from becoming homeless to begin with, with things like rental and utility assistance, eviction-protection programs, and creating new and preserving existing affordable homes.
Hancock said he is also proposing bringing in $28 million from the American Rescue Plan into Denver’s Affordable Housing Fund and is creating a specialized team to prioritize these projects for permit review and approval to get this housing built quickly.
The plan also includes help for those struggling to make rent and mortgage payments amid the pandemic. They admit the COVID-19 crises made it even harder for many residents to continue to afford their housing.
The eviction moratorium and mortgage forbearance programs have helped to stave off a wave of evictions and foreclosures, HOST said. However, more than 250,000 Coloradans report being behind on their rent and mortgage payments. HOST said it will explore and identify possible funding sources for housing stability to increase levels of support that can be provided beyond emergency and pandemic recovery.
The Five-Year Strategic Plan is open for public comment through Sept. 3, and will be presented at the following two virtual community meetings:
Following the public review period, HOST will present the final version of the plan to city council for adoption in November.