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Focus On Housing Denver Homeless Cut Arrests, Police Time, Study Says

A new study from the Urban Institute shows that when Denver took a housing-first approach to homelessness, individuals who become housed have far fewer interactions with police and are arrested less often than those who remain chronically homeless.

"We don’t have to keep going the way that it is. There is a better solution," says Sarah Gillespie, a researcher for the Urban Institute's study on the nexus between policing and individuals housed through Denver's Social Impact Bond program.

Under that program, which ran from 2016 to 2020, private organizations gave $8.6 million to service providers to fund a supportive housing initiative, with the guarantee that the city would repay the organizations if positive results were generated, reports Westword.

The effort focused on getting housing and providing wraparound services for people experiencing chronic homelessness, particularly those who had been without a home for at least one year and had a disability, whether a physical or mental disability, a substance-use disorder or some combination.

Participants must have had frequent interactions with the criminal justice system.

Through the program, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Mental Health Center of Denver, now known as WellPower, housed 365 people. Many lived in buildings owned by the two organizations, while others used vouchers for units owned by other landlords.

The Urban Institute has been studying the program. Last year, the Institute called the program a "remarkable success" because vast majority of the individuals who participated stayed in housing after three years.

The new study focused on crime data.

People experiencing chronic homelessness in Denver are much more likely to be cited for offenses that are typically related to homelessness than members of the general population, such as trespassing.

"But this overrepresentation does not apply to other types of offenses such as crimes against people or crimes related to theft, burglary, or robbery," the study reports. It suggests that moving more people off the streets will cut down on police interactions.

The Denver Police Department spends a significant amount of time and effort citing and arresting people experiencing homelessness for these lesser offenses.

In 2018, police spent an estimated 2,789 hours arresting people in the target homeless population for lesser offenses, as well as an estimated additional 3,627 hours on warrants among the target population.

"When police are managing the problem of homelessness because there’s not an actual solution, there’s not enough housing for people who need it, not enough connection to services for people who need it," Gillespie says. "What ends up happening is police spend a lot of time managing that problem through citations of people experiencing homelessness."

The new study indicates that "arrests related to homelessness among ...participants dropped by more than half" and that "in the two years after being randomized into the program, people in the treatment group were arrested for 52 percent fewer offenses associated with experiencing homelessness than people in the control group."


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