What’s Next After Denver’s 10-Year Push To End Homelessness?

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Photo: Bennie Milliner, Denver's Road Home
Denver's Road Home Executive Director Bennie Milliner speaks with a concerned resident at a public meeting about homelessness in Denver, Colo. on April 30, 2015.

It was a lofty goal: leaders in Denver created a plan to end homelessness in 10 years. The 10th year is this one and recently Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner asked Gov. John Hickenlooper -- who was mayor when the plan started -- why homelessness remains a persistent problem.

"No one is more disappointed than I am -- or all the other mayors, right?" Hickenlooper said. "There were 280 cities across the United States that committed to 10-year plans to end homelessness -- and we always knew that we weren't going to end homelessness. Right? That's a marketing effort to get everyone's attention to say, 'Alright, Let's really work on this.'"

Whatever the plan's true intentions, Denver's city auditor recently released a scathing audit faulting the plan's implementation. To talk about that, and where the plan goes from here, Colorado Matters producer Andrea Dukakis spoke with Bennie Milliner, who for the last three years has led Denver's Road Home, the agency in charge of ending homelessness.

In response to the city audit that found Denver's Road Home does not collect sufficient data to measure its own progress

"I totally disagree with my friend, the soon-too-leave-office auditor. Clearly, we know where money has gone. We know the impact that it has had. The Auditor's Office characterization was unnecessarily harsh and a little inaccurate. We'll continue to impact the lives of people in this city, in this region, as we have over the last 10 years."

On the roots of a housing problem for the poor in Denver

"We're still housing 300-400 people a month in varying ways, but the only thing that solves a housing problem is more houses. And with the profit margin for affordable housing developers so slim, if they lose out on the competition with low income housing credits, it becomes more and more difficult and more challenging because people look around Denver and there are cranes everywhere and there are apartments being built everywhere and they say, 'What's the issue?' 'Well, the issue is the cost of that housing.'"

What will the next plan look like?

"We're probably looking at a three- to five-year plan. There are those who want us to shy away from that aspirational goal [of ending homelessness in 10 years]. We'll continue to work toward ending homeless. We may not be as emphatic in this plan, and the like, but it will continue to be a rallying cry and an aspirational goal that we like to move toward."