Denver gets new pilot program to
help chronically homeless
Denver is one of five cities where the Department of Veterans Affairs will pilot a new program to help homeless veterans.
The program, funded with a $33 million grant over five years, will create a 40-bed program for chronically homeless vets.
Geographic need is one reason Denver was chosen. Currently, the closest program for Denver-area homeless veterans who require residential treatment for alcohol, drugs and psychological problems is in Sheridan, Wyo.
The Denver program will be housed in an existing building — not yet selected — and is expected to start in about 18 months. The other cities are San Diego, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami.
“It’s not a shelter, but a therapeutic, holistic treatment center for homeless vets, because Denver is a hub for the homeless in general,” said Jordan Schupbach, spokesman for the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System.
Residential treatment programs offer a variety of services, including help with medical, mental health and addiction problems and job-skills training.
A recent VA study of veterans who graduated from residential rehabilitation and transitional housing programs showed that 79 percent remained independently housed one year later.
Derrick Green, a homeless vet in the VA’s transitional housing program at the Renaissance Civic Center Apartments, is optimistic about the new program.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “There’s a lot of veterans with problems. All the help we can get, we need. To bring that program to Denver would be a plus.”
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless provided housing, health care and supportive services to 1,383 homeless veterans in 2009, a 26 percent increase from the 1,096 served in 2008.
Nationwide, the number of veterans homeless on a typical night dropped 18 percent from 2003 to 2009, when it was about 107,000, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is in the second year of a five-year
campaign to end homelessness among veterans.Still, some federal agencies are concerned some veterans returning from war could end up sleeping out in the cold.
“We do not want men and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq to find themselves homeless and on the streets,” said Barbara Poppe, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, during a visit to Denver in July to discuss with state and city providers a new federal strategic plan to end homelessness. “That’s a great risk.”
Work is now being done to create better transition planning, she said, and the VA “is announcing some new ventures, and new pilot programs, around that.”
“I think it’s going to be fabulous,” said Lynn Rider, a case manager at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless who works with homeless veterans in the VA’s grant and per-diem program, which provides transitional housing.
She’s had homeless veterans come into her Denver program at the Renaissance Civic Center Apartments after spending time at the residential program in Wyoming.
She’s also had to send some vets from the Denver program up to Wyoming.
“They were struggling with really severe, chronic mental illness — primarily PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) — and because of their symptoms, they were not able to take care of themselves in the grant per-diem program, which is really independent. So they needed that extra boost,” she said.
visit to Denver, Poppe praised the city for its efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans.”You have an active partner in the VA, and are participating here in ways not always seen in other communities,” she said. “There is still a ways to go, but you have made good progress.”
Colleen O’Connor: 303-954-1083 or firstname.lastname@example.org