Boulder County aims to tackle homelessness by providing housing first

BOULDER COUNTY — The first annual report from Homeless Solutions for Boulder County, a public-private partnership tasked with coordinating and implementing homeless services for single adults across the county, found that it assessed 2,448 people for services in its first year.

The group, which aims to provide permanent supportive housing for clients, was able to transition 383 people, or 15 percent of all clients, out of the shelter system. Of those, 188 individuals got into their own housing, 145 were able to use existing social supports and 50 entered programs such as Ready to Work, the Inn Between of Longmont and residential substance-use treatment.

HSBC consists of groups such as Boulder County, the cities of Boulder and Longmont, Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Bridge House and other groups. In total, more than a dozen government agencies and nonprofits make up the partnership.

The core to HSBC’s approach is the belief that homelessness is an affordable-housing issue.

“In Boulder County, for example, the costs of housing have increased dramatically over the past 10 years and currently more than half of all renters spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing,” wrote Robin Bohannan, HSBC executive board chair and director of the Boulder County Community Services Department, in a March 1 letter attached to the report.

To address the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, HSBC uses a Housing First model. While traditional models try to move people into shelters and transitional housing before permanent housing, the Housing First model secures permanent housing as a first step, then provides support for medical, behavioral, mental, income, landlord relationship and other concerns. Communities that have used this model, such as Houston, have seen a 75 percent decrease in chronic homelessness.

In Colorado, there were 10,940 individuals experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2017, with 600 located in Boulder County.

“Because the size of the challenge is small, it is possible to scale resources to address this need,” the report states.

To tackle the issue, HSBC uses a coordinated entry system, where a person experiencing homelessness can go through an intake into a homeless-services system. Individuals in Boulder or Longmont are then put on one of two paths. Navigation services provides short-term resolution assistance to those with lower needs. Services include temporary shelter if needed, case management, financial assistance, legal assistance and reunification assistance. Those who need more intensive help and have strong links to the county — such as family in the area or they have lived there for some time — can be put on the housing-focused shelter path. They can stay at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless while they receive housing-focused case management.

Of the 2,448 people assessed by HSBC in its first year, 75 percent were in Boulder, and 25 percent were in Longmont. On average, clients were 42 years old, with about 70 percent of them male, 29 percent female and less than 1 percent transgender or gender noncomforming. About 64 percent of clients were white, with 12 percent identifying as hispanic or latino. For comparison, Boulder County as a whole is 89 percent white, meaning people of color are overrepresented in the homeless population.

About 55 percent of HSBC clients reported experiencing homelessness for more than 12 months out of the past three years. Eighty-six percent came for a coordinated entry screening after spending the previous night sleeping on the streets or in a homeless shelter, while 70 percent reported having a disabling condition, like mental or physical health issues or substance abuse issues.

There were 28 new Housing Choice vouchers given for people under 62 who have a disabling condition. There were 20 existing units being converted to Permanent Supportive Housing via state funding and 11 new Permanent Supportive Housing vouchers. By Sept. 30, 2018, eight clients had moved into housing and one was looking for an apartment. There are also 70 new PSH units proposed over the next three years. The organization also received $2.4 million through a substance abuse and mental services grant to provide supportive services to individuals needing housing.

Ultimately, HSBC has found it is more effective to find housing solutions quickly and up-front rather than letting people experience chronic homelessness. Of the nine clients so far who have used PSH vouchers, together they have spent 4,100 nights at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, a total of 1,250 jail bed nights, averaged 20 ambulance trips to the hospital each year and cumulatively had spent 100 years on the streets. In the Denver area it can cost $20,000 to provide permanent supportive housing, but a person living on the streets can cost $43,000 per year in detox services, incarceration, emergency room visits, inpatient care and shelter.

Looking ahead, the HSBC board plans to create 200 new supportive housing opportunities for long-term Boulder County community members experiencing chronic homelessness. It’s also working with the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership, which is tackling the root cause of lack of affordable housing. The goal is to ensure 12 percent of all homes in Boulder County are permanently affordable by 2035. That means tripling the number of affordable homes over the next 15 years.

BOULDER COUNTY — The first annual report from Homeless Solutions for Boulder County, a public-private partnership tasked with coordinating and implementing homeless services for single adults across the county, found that it assessed 2,448 people for services in its first year.

The group, which aims to provide permanent supportive housing for clients, was able to transition 383 people, or 15 percent of all clients, out of the shelter system. Of those, 188 individuals got into their own housing, 145 were able to use existing social supports and 50 entered programs such as Ready to Work, the Inn Between of Longmont and residential substance-use treatment.

HSBC consists of groups such as Boulder County, the cities of Boulder and Longmont, Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Bridge House and other groups. In total, more than a dozen government agencies and nonprofits make up the partnership.

The core to HSBC’s approach is the belief that homelessness is an affordable-housing issue.

“In Boulder County, for example, the costs of housing have increased dramatically over the past 10 years and currently more than half of all renters spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing,” wrote Robin Bohannan, HSBC executive board chair and director of the Boulder County Community Services Department, in a March 1 letter attached to the report.

To address the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, HSBC uses a Housing First model. While traditional models try to move people into shelters and transitional housing before permanent housing, the Housing First model…