DENVER - When thinking about addressing the age-old issue of homelessness in Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock says the city has to try something new.
"We can't just go across the board, one size fits all. We'll never solve the challenge," Hancock said.
In 2016, the city of Denver launched the Social Impact Bond Program where private lenders loan funds to accomplish a goal like reducing chronic homelessness. The investors are repaid based on whether the project reaches its goals.
"It gives us an opportunity to kind of shift that burden across the private sector, as well," Hancock said.
Thursday morning, he unveiled Sanderson Apartments, a 60-unit complex designed to treat the chronically homeless as trauma victims and address their mental health and physical health needs.
"The people that live here are folks that are dealing with either a mental illness or an addiction problem," Dr. Carl Clark said. "We'll be able to have staff come by, check on people, see how they're doing."
Clark is the president and CEO of Mental Health Center of Denver. His organization developed Sanderson Apartments and will provide treatment services for its residents.The complex is purposefully designed with bright, open spaces and one-bedroom apartments.
"Open air, open spaces to give people that sort of distance that they need from other people and yet connect with them at the same time," Clark said. "There's a sense of pride and a sense of importance. It makes a difference in how people see themselves."
Hancock believes this sort of "all-inclusive" approach will be a long-term solution to homelessness.
"We recognized that we needed to think deeper and we needed to think more individualistically in our approach," Hancock said. "This is a great step. This is a wonderful step."
The private investors put in $8.7 million. The city used that money to leverage another $15 million in federal funds for this project and others aimed at reducing chronic homelessness. The city will repay investors based on the percentage of people who live in housing for at least one year and stay out jail.
If the program is 100 percent successful, the city would pay about $11.4 million to investors. If it is a complete failure, the city will pay $0. The expected return, according to the city of Denver, is around $9.6 million.
Sanderson Apartments will only assist 60 people at a time in a city where thousands of people sleep on the streets every night. Hancock knows the numbers are against him, he feels a project like this could begin to turn the tide.
"Sixty means there are sixty people who now have a roof over their heads, sixty people who have access to intensive services," Hancock said. "We're going to the next sixty."
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