From the Greeley Tribune: October 8, 2022 at 7:52 p.m.
Many nights, as Juliana Kitten slips into bed, she thinks of the more than 80 people who are without shelter in Greeley.
With an extensive background in developing solutions to homelessness in cities across the U.S., Kitten is familiar with the struggles of the unsheltered population.
It’s these thoughts that give her a sense of urgency as Greeley’s new assistant manager overseeing the city’s homelessness and housing initiatives.
Kitten started at the city Sept. 19, just a few months after the city received a commissioned report about homeless and housing services with an assessment and recommendations. For the report, contractor Urbanity Advisors conducted several community sessions this year to gather input. The report provided six recommendations:
- Use a collective impact framework to better coordinate service providers.
- Conduct a housing needs assessment.
- Pursue pre-development research for a service-based campus.
- Establish a clear understanding of what causes homelessness and factors to prevent homelessness.
- Establish a user-friendly guide of resources for the unhoused population.
- Explore creative temporary solutions.
For Kitten, the recommendation for a collective impact framework is the most concrete. Having started her career as a social worker before getting involved with initiatives to address homelessness through a housing-first model, collaborative work has been a central theme throughout her work.
The housing-first model works to provide permanent housing without barriers, alongside service programs to help people be able to support themselves. Most of the time, after moving in to such housing, people first ask how they can get back to work and how to reconnect with family, according to Kitten’s 20 years of experience.
“People start to really get invested, and they don’t want to lose their housing,” she said.
Housing-first programs have shown an 85% or better success rate in ending homelessness for those served, Kitten said, dramatically reducing emergency room visits and incarceration and ultimately saving communities tremendous amounts of money.
The report noted much of the collective impact work is already underway through the Northern Colorado Continuum of Care and United Way of Weld County, which operates the Weld’s Way Home initiative.
The Continuum of Care, a region spanning Weld and Larimer counties as designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is tasked with creating a network of partners to implement housing-first strategies as well as align funding to support those strategies, according to Director Kelli Pryor. The program also collects comprehensive data about homelessness, including conducting annual counts of the sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations and demographic information.
The most recent count found the number of unsheltered people in the region increased by 44.4% from 2020 to 2022. The Continuum of Care noted several factors for the increase, including the likelihood of the 2020 count likely being an undercount because it relied exclusively on individual surveys from those experiencing unsheltered homelessness in known places the night of the count. The 2022 count used a more comprehensive approach, using data to infer certain people were unsheltered.
Weld’s Way Home is a collective impact collaboration with more than 30 community partners working to address housing instability and homelessness. Started in 2016, the initiative recently completed an updated plan that includes a look at how to prevent homelessness in the community.
Shawn Walcott, director of household stability at United Way of Weld County, oversees the initiative. He said their recent accomplishments include a housing navigation center to help people at the cold weather shelter access resources, a permanent location for the overnight shelter, reestablishing a board for the High Plains Development Corporation — a nonprofit developer of supportive housing — and helping establish the Northern Colorado Continuum of Care, which has allowed them to advocate for more funding for the area in recent years.
“Homelessness isn’t an individual challenge. It’s a structural challenge,” Walcott said. “And that requires a whole bunch of collaboration.”
The report indicates that these organizations, despite their successes, have capacity issues that don’t make them an ideal backbone organization for collective impact at this time. Instead, Urbanity recommended the city form an initiative where it’s the backbone organization, potentially later re-approaching United Way and the Continuum of Care to serve in a greater leadership capacity.
The city has already begun the work of conducting a housing needs assessment, issuing a request for proposal in June. The report indicates a possible need for affordable housing at multiple income points. Kitten said the assessment will provide a roadmap to developing a balanced housing stock.
Stakeholders and community members in the Urbanity sessions expressed a desire for Greeley to explore developing a service-based campus that offers homeless services and permanent supportive housing. Services could include health care, employment, substance abuse treatment, food, clothing and legal assistance.
A sub-recommendation suggests supporting an upcoming development by the High Plains Development Corporation: a permanent supportive housing project at 123 9th Ave. The corporation anticipates the property can support 150 units of housing — 60 permanent supportive housing units and 90 mixed-income, affordable units. High Plains will apply for low income housing tax credits in 2023 to complete the project, according to its website.
The fourth recommendation aligns with the updates to Weld’s Way Home’s plan, turning the focus from reactive interventions to also consider proactive interventions. Walcott said part of this may include working with land lords, police and the legal system to more effectively support people in finding housing or remaining housed.
Another aspect is ensuring people seeking some services, such as food boxes from the food bank, are aware of and able to access any other services they may need.
Urbanity found the community lacks a shared understanding of what causes homelessness specifically in the Greeley area, suggesting the city better explore such factors. The report goes on to suggest the University of Northern Colorado could participate as a research partner.
Kitten highlighted the Urbanity report also indicated a need to hear more from people experiencing homelessness in the community. She said direct input into program design and evaluation from those who are being served creates more effective programs.
The city is already collaborating on a user-friendly resource guide and has developed a call guide for reporting concerns related to homelessness. Urbanity recommended the city look to a similar guide managed by Outreach Fort Collins as a model, with a list of shelters, services and other resources, hosted on a website and a printable flyer with a map.
The final recommendation speaks to the urgency Kitten feels in addressing homelessness. Long-term solutions could take years to establish, so Urbanity recommended exploring temporary options such as safe outdoor spaces, safe parking and tiny home villages. Because such options can lead to great debates and contention, the report noted, deep engagement and education will be a must.
Kitten said the city will plan further engagement with residents and stakeholders as city officials begin looking at action steps to put the recommendations into play.
“That’s something I’ve definitely heard is that people are ready for more action to be taken,” she said.