The path out of homelessness is different for everyone, but there are navigators out there trying to clear the way.
Last year, representatives from the various service providers in town instituted a coordinated system meant to match individuals with the appropriate resources, if and when they're available. The system begins with a survey called the VI SPDAT. There are three versions — one for single adults, one for youth and one for families — available at a number of locations or out in the field. (Visit ppunitedway.org/ciscontinuum.html or call 211 for the survey-administration schedule.)
About three pages long, the survey asks questions relating to housing history, health and lifestyle that the survey administrator calculates into a "vulnerability score." Individuals who score the highest are recommend to be placed in permanent supportive housing. Below that is rapid re-housing, then transitional housing, and for the lowest-scoring individuals, no formal housing support is recommended.
Once a week, Pikes Peak United Way, which manages the coordinated entry system, hosts a private meeting where relevant agencies come together to review the latest surveys, take stock of available resources and begin the matchmaking process. At press time, there are 762 people on the waiting list, with just under half of those being in the most vulnerable category.
"We're so cognizant that these are not numbers, these are people, but this is the process," says United Way's Suzi Arnold, who manages the system. Openings don't come up often, but when they do, case managers kick it in gear to find the person and begin assembling paperwork. If the person self-reported a disability, for example, they need medical records to prove it.
Once a person secures rental assistance, they have another challenge: Finding a landlord who will accept them. Past evictions, unpaid rent and criminal convictions can make that challenging. Plus, vacancy rates are low, housing subsidies haven't kept up with market-rate rents, and fewer property managers are accepting applicants who are receiving rental assistance.
Since last October, when the system began, just 47 people have been housed through it. (Another barrier: Currently, those who don't find housing in six months have to start the process over. That time frame will soon shorten to 90 days.)
The process is unlikely to get easier any time soon. Both the White House and its allies in Congress have made clear they're eager to hack at the social safety net as much as they can in 2018. Budget cuts are expected at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds most rental assistance programs available here.
"That's what keeps me awake at night," says Beth Roalstad, governing board chair of the regional homeless services umbrella agency, the Continuum of Care. "How would we make do with less? Do we help fewer people or do we give less to each?"
One bit of good news: The Colorado Division of Housing (DOH) has announced that they have $15.3 million in marijuana tax revenue dedicated to address homelessness in Colorado.