National initiative to address homelessness expands in Colorado beyond Metro Denver

Kaiser Permanente donated half a million dollars to the cause.

An emcampment across the street from the Salvation Army's Crossroad men's shelter a block off from Brighton Boulevard, Oct. 1, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

An emcampment across the street from the Salvation Army's Crossroad men's shelter a block off from Brighton Boulevard, Oct. 1, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Eight more Colorado counties are joining metro Denver in a nationwide initiative aimed at ending homelessness, and they’re getting $500,000 from Kaiser Permanente to plan how best to work together toward their ambitious goal.

Kaiser Permanente Colorado, the state Division of Housing and the nonprofit Community Solutions announced the expansion in Colorado of the Built for Zero initiative. Community Solutions, founded in 2011 by a woman who had already worked for decades housing people in need and pursuing broader approaches to the homelessness crisis, launched Built for Zero in 2015 to help communities coordinate and use data to address homelessness.

Metro Denver (which includes the City and County of Denver, Adams County, Arapahoe County, Aurora, Boulder County, Broomfield, Douglas County and Jefferson County) has been involved since almost the beginning. Built for Zero includes more than 70 communities across the country.

Now joining metro Denver are Fremont, Mesa, El Paso, Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle, Larimer and Weld counties. Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle in the mountains joined as a single community, as did Larimer and Weld in northern Colorado.

“Regional and state partnerships like this bring people, organizations, and resources together across sectors and enable us to build a community response to help serve those experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect,” said Denver’s chief housing officer Britta Fisher.

Kaiser will contribute $500,000, a one-time grant with no spending deadline to help with planning and building the partnership, said Ellen Weaver, who is the senior manager of community health and engagement for the state’s largest nonprofit health plan.

“It’s a collaborative effort,” she said, adding that donating money for a specific program, as donors often do but not in this case, is “less effective than a group collaborating.”

Weaver said Kaiser was “excited” to support Built for Zero, which she described as an organization with deep expertise and experience in housing and homelessness.

Built for Zero grew out of Rosanne Haggerty’s work in the 1990s, when she led the conversion of a New York single-room occupancy hotel into affordable housing where people who had experienced homelessness found the support they needed to transition to stability. Haggerty went on to lead organizations that created thousands of more homes and tested methods to reduce homelessness.

A dozen communities participating in Built for Zero have declared they have ended homelessness for certain populations, such as veterans. That doesn’t mean no veterans will ever again experience homelessness in those places, but that the communities have the resources and procedures to ensure that it happens rarely and is quickly resolved. Denver has yet to reach that status.

Kaiser is among several hospital and health systems that have in recent years approached homelessness and housing insecurity as a health issue, recognizing that people spending more than they can comfortably afford on housing don’t have much left over to eat healthily, and that those discharged from hospitals with no home to go to will struggle to follow a doctor’s orders for recovery.

“Health extends well beyond medical care,” Kaiser’s Weaver said. “Homelessness and housing are huge issues for health. There is myriad data that shows the connection.”

Kaiser’s contribution to Built for Zero is in addition to its Thriving Communities project, a $200 million investment fund created last year to address affordable housing and other issues that impact health but aren’t always seen as a health system’s concern.

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