Denver is experimenting with a new program designed to keep people who are homeless and who spend seven or fewer days each year in jail off the streets. The program is aimed largely at males at this point in time, but the city hopes to expand the program to include more women.
Each participant is put in housing that is especially designed for them. The city then surrounds them with a team of professionals including a psychiatrists, mental health nurses and case managers in an effort to keep the chronic homeless off the streets.
The $1.7 million project which is designed to last for five years in its initial phrase is funded by a unique coalition. Several nonprofits and investors have constructed new apartment building especially for participants to live in. The city then pays these investors back when those living in the units stay out of jail. Participants pay 30 percent of their income as rent, but the city says that many participants have no income, so they get their apartments for free.
Of the original group of 66 participants who signed six-month leases, 33 have maintained their houses for a year. Six participants have passed away, and only one has left the program. The city sees this as a positive indicator that housing people is much cheaper than incarcerating them on minor charges such as sleeping in a city park or urinating in public.
One thing that has surprised many organizers is that participants are getting better medical care when they start to feel like someone cares about them. Over time, this helps to lower medical costs that are often paid for by the public.