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Your home may be your castle, but when you’re dealing with an illness or injury, it’s much more valuable as your infirmary: a safe, clean space where you can get better. Unfortunately, individuals experiencing homelessness don’t have access to permanent shelter where they can recover or receive consistent respite care. Upon being discharged from hospitals, they often return to the streets, where their afflictions can worsen and force them back into emergency rooms. “They end up staying in the hospital for longer than they need to at great cost to the hospital, to the health care system, and Medicaid and Medicare,” says Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) president and CEO John Parvensky. “And their outcomes don’t necessarily get better.”
CCH wants to change that reality. This summer, the nonprofit is unveiling its newest project: the Stout Street Recuperative Care Facility and Renaissance Legacy Lofts, a first-of-its-kind, $46.5 million development designed to help end the hospital-to-street-to-hospital cycle. The solution begins at Stout Street, which holds 75 beds where individuals who are chronically homeless can recover from surgery or other ailments, such as frostbite or cancer treatments, with the help of on-site nurses, social workers, and behavioral health staff.
Although respite care has been shown to lead to better health outcomes, shorter hospital stays, and decreased medical costs, Denver previously had only 20 such beds for individuals experiencing homelessness within its borders, all at CCH’s Beacon Place, a transitional housing community. The supply wasn’t close to meeting demand: The nonprofit received 20 referrals per week from various hospitals. (At the height of the pandemic, the city did pay for 1,000 hotel rooms in which individuals experiencing homelessness who tested positive for COVID-19 and those at high risk for severe symptoms could isolate.) “It’s always been a goal to be able to get to the point where we could meet that need,” Parvensky says.
Located in downtown’s Arapahoe Square, Stout Street nearly quadruples Beacon Place’s stock, which will continue operating. Patients will remain in Stout Street’s semiprivate rooms for an average of 30 to 45 days and have access to laundry and meals. At discharge, staff can connect them to continuing clinical care, for free, at CCH’s adjacent Stout Street Health Center. “This is a legacy project,” says Britta Fisher, chief housing officer for the city and county of Denver, which helped fund the development. “The goal is for someone to get healthy and then transition to a housed environment.”
That is where Legacy Lofts comes in. In 2016, the city, in partnership with CCH, started offering a housing-first model to people who were chronically homeless and frequently connected with the criminal justice system and emergency rooms. (The housing-first template posits that stable housing is necessary in order for people to address other challenges, such as substance use issues or finding a job.) After three years, 77 percent of individuals remained housed, and there was a 40 percent reduction in arrests. Legacy Lofts’ 98 units of supportive housing directly above the Stout Street Recuperative Care Facility will offer the same kind of arrangement to people who use the health care system at high rates. Depending on availability, Stout Street clients may be referred upstairs. “We have the ability,” Parvensky says, “to help them get to a better place.”