Four years and tens of millions of dollars into Mayor John Hickenlooper's signature 10-year plan to end homelessness in Denver, organizers have created more than 1,500 housing units and settled on a philosophy:
The opening of 66 new units for the homeless at the historic Aromor on Capitol Hill on Monday, combined with hundreds more apartments coming on-line this year, puts Denver's Road Home well ahead of a pace to find 3,000 units in a decade. The number of chronic homeless on the streets is down. Panhandling, detox visits and jail intakes have been cut sharply, and cities from Fort Collins to Sacramento, Calif., have adopted similarly ambitious goals.
The new challenge for homeless advocates is to translate enthusiasm for bricks and mortar into long-term aid for job skills, drug treatment and other services that keep new apartment doors from becoming revolving doors.
And while studies can now point to specific cost savings in housing the homeless, officials must persuade a tangle of government agencies to reinvest those savings in redoubled efforts for the homeless.
"People say, you're saving federal money, or Medicaid money," not city money, Hickenlooper said. "I don't care. It's all our money. The very fact we are demonstrating savings per person, per year, people don't realize that."
Larry "Joe" Robinson hopes to contribute to those savings after moving into the Aromor on Monday. He'll be contributing part of his Supplemental Security Income toward rent, in a small but fresh dorm-style room with a new kitchen. Come fall, he'll be at Emily Griffith Opportunity School for professional office courses.
"My main thing is getting trained. I don't need to be on SSI forever," said Robinson, who was on the streets in Oklahoma and Denver after a bone disease precluded his construction work. "I'm more than capable of going back into the workforce."