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Our Town: Can These Big Ideas Solve Homelessness?

While there is no perfect solution to this complex issue, we look at a few programs that the city of Denver is using to address homeless—and rank their effectiveness.

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In the November issue of 5280, we published “Our Town,” an in-depth look at homelessness in the Mile High City. One portion highlighted a few of the programs that Denver uses to address homelessness—from housing first initiatives to the Denver Voice and the city’s camping ordinace—and ranked their effectiveness. While there is no perfect solution to this complex issue, here are a few more “Big Ideas” that might help.


Denver Public Schools’ Homeless Liaisons

What It Is: The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act—which was renewed in 2011 to reduce barriers to education for homeless youth—requires every school district to have at least one local liaison to identify homeless children, enroll them, and address their specific needs (from cleats for soccer practice to their next meal to plotting out a bus route home).

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Will It Work? DPS has just four or five liaisons—there are 200 in the state—for more than 3,000 homeless kids, meaning that in the best circumstances, they have limited time with each student.

*Rating: 7 out of 10

Homeless Court

What It Is: This monthly court only works with the homeless population to swap community service for jail times as punishment for minor crimes—trespassing, public consumption of alcohol, and urinating in public—if the defendant appears in court and pleads guilty.

Will It Work? The program started in 2006 but hasn’t effectively tracked how many people return or don’t. What we do know is that in 2014, the court saw more than 600 defendants.

Rating: 3 out of 10

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The Vulnerability Index & Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT)

What It Is: One survey is now used by all homeless outreach workers and homeless services in the metro area to help connect people with housing lists. It ranks vulnerability—based on health and other risk factors—to help place people in housing.

Will It Work? Since the form was introduced in 2014, 3,137 people have taken the VI-SPDAT and 99 have been housed as of press time.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Landlord Incentives

What It Is: This program induces property owners and managers to rent affordable units to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness at a time when average rents are high throughout the metro area. The $52,000 fund helps subsidize owners and covers up to $1,600 in damages per unit.

Will It Work? The fund is small, but it is an enticing safety blanket for landlords: Since the program was unveiled in July, more than 50 have asked to join as of press time.

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Rating: 6 out of 10

*Scale of 1–10; 10 being the most effective

(Read “Our Town,” 5280‘s special report on homelessness)

Daliah Singer, 5280 Contributor

Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.

Jerilyn Forsythe, Digital Associate Editor

Jerilyn Forsythe co-directs 5280.com's editorial strategy, manages the magazine's social media presence, and oversees 5280's digital internship program. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @jlforsyt.

Mary Clare Fischer, Assistant Editor

Mary Clare Fischer co-edits 5280’s Compass, Adventure, and Culture sections; writes for multiple sections of the magazine; and blogs weekly about health and wellness for 5280.com.

Spencer Campbell, Senior Editor

Spencer Campbell is 5280's senior editor.

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