- Denver is "strengthening and aligning" its resources for homelessness mitigation initiatives, Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement, following a report by the Denver Auditor claiming the city's approach to homelessness is "fragmented and understaffed."
- Auditor Timothy O'Brien's report said Denver's homeless services and prevention efforts lack a comprehensive citywide strategy, defined leadership and specific goals or performance metrics to measure success. The 57-page report is centered on two major findings:
- Denver's Road Home — the agency that oversees city investments into tools to help the homeless — has gaps in its collaborative efforts and staff resources that impede its ability to address homelessness.
- The homelessness advisory committee that launched last year drafted bylaws that lack some important elements, which might compromise its ability to be effective.
- The report offers five recommendations for improvement including drafting stronger advisory committee bylaws and reassessing which agency is responsible for devising and implementing a strategic plan. Hancock committed to making the recommended improvements and also proposed a new Department of Housing and Homelessness to address affordable housing and homeless services needs.
Announcing the proposed housing and homelessness department just days after the audit results came out suggests it's a direct response to the audit, but the city says the concept has been in the works for a few years. Hancock made the announcement at the fifth annual Denver Housing Forum, where he also announced $15.7 million in homeless services funding over the next three years.
Denver's leaders recognize that housing prices have risen sharply as the population boomed in recent years. They've attempted measures to ease the burden of increased housing costs and plan for the future, as evidenced by last year's city council approval of a five-year housing plan that, among other things, aimed to assist low-income and homeless residents. But housing affordability and homelessness are complex problems that tend to take time and effort to solve.
The audit is the most recent example of a community's homeless services coming into question in recent weeks. Last month, a study showed San Diego County's spending on homelessness increased 2,015% from 2009 to 2018, but no correlation was evident between the spending and local homeless numbers. Instead of viewing these types of reviews as negative, leaders can use them as opportunities to make targeted improvements in areas where outside analysts found gaps. The targeted approach could save money and labor by preventing repeated guess-and-test initiatives.
Denver leaders' inclination to establish the housing and homelessness department and following the auditor's recommendations are the first steps toward a comprehensive strategy to address a complex problem. It also lays the groundwork for better data collection and analysis. Without good data, it's difficult for cities to create appropriate responses to large and complicated problems.