Mike Evan, a formerly homeless individual in Boulder, now lives in a supportive housing apartment. Boulder County Commissioners reacted favorably to data on the 1175 Lee Hill project four years after it was created to help get homeless people off the street.
About 15 years ago, Michael Evan lost his job as a chef in Boulder, and, no longer able to afford his mobile home’s lot rent, left it with a knapsack full of essentials never to sleep in it again.
Evan, now 52, was homeless on the city’s streets for 11 years, racking up dozens of criminal charges with Boulder police for municipal violations such as camping in public and open alcohol containers.
But since November 2014, when he entered the once-controversial 1175 Lee Hill permanent supportive housing project owned by Boulder Housing Partners, with resident social services offered by the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Evan has had a home of his own.
The housing project, which supports 31 residents who are chronically homeless has given Evan and others much-needed stability to end rough periods in their lives. Chronically homeless is defined as those experiencing homelessness for 12 months out of the past three years.
“I can call it home. I can relax,” Evan said.
Few police calls, no neighborhood complaints
Since it opened its doors in 2014, 1175 Lee Hill has generated zero neighbor calls to police, zero complaints to Boulder Housing Partners and accounted for zero police arrests during the period, Boulder County and Boulder Housing Partners staff told county commissioners on Tuesday. Commissioners’ reactions consisted of one word: “Wow.”
The word was uttered by both Commissioners Deb Gardner and Elise Jones upon noting the progress made by the facility’s residents. One tenant spent 200 nights in jail and endured 22 arrests over a five-year period before moving into the project, with another five residents accounting for 195 arrests before moving in.
Jones’ inquiry on whether there is a goal for an appropriate time period for residents to move into other private housing options from permanently supportive housing resulted in an explanation of the advantage of facilities like 1175 Lee Hill: They allow for flexibility to house people with a variety of capacities for financial and housing independence.
“Because it’s permanent supportive housing, for some people, the goal is to have them live there forever,” said Lyndall Ellingson, Boulder Housing Partners Resident Services program manager. “For other people, the goal would be to help them stabilize to the point where they feel they can be successful somewhere else, and helping them work toward building that self-sufficiency that allows them to thrive in independent housing.”
Out of the 26 people who have entered and left 1175 Lee Hill over the past four years, 17 were considered successful exits that resulted in the tenant finding different housing or dying while housed, while nine were unsuccessful, meaning they returned to homelessness or incarceration, according to Ellingson’s presentation to commissioners. Among current Lee Hill residents are 12 who have been there four years or longer, six who have been there three years, another six who have been there two years, with the remaining residents having been there less than two years.
“The intent is not to put a time limit on it,” Boulder Shelter for the Homeless Director Greg Harms said. “That’s the traditional transitional housing, where you have two years and if you don’t have your act together, tough luck. Permanent supportive housing is intended to say if you need to stay here forever, you can. We would love for you to graduate, and we encourage people to do so, and we have that success, but it’s not a requirement so people don’t end up back on the streets if they can’t handle that.”
For that reason, Commissioner Matt Jones recognized the rate at which people leave the permanent supportive housing model won’t allow for an influx of new clients, which means it can’t make a dent in the county’s homeless population.
“If people are leaving very slowly, and we’re putting more people in, that says we need a lot more housing,” Matt Jones said.
To solve the local homelessness issue, county and Boulder Housing Partners officials recommended to commissioners the permanent supportive housing model — which works with properties that charge 30% of a tenant’s monthly income for rent, which often comes out of Social Security or federal disability payments — expand across the county. Expansion could be accomplished, they said, through developing facilities similar to 1175 Lee Hill, and by public housing agencies obtaining more state and federal vouchers that can be used to cover rent costs beyond the 30% of income threshold, so homeless residents can be placed in privately owned rental homes.
A combination of 200 new supportive housing vouchers and units dedicated to formerly chronic homeless people in facilities like 1175 Lee Hill is needed, county Homeless Services Navigation Manager Jennifer Biess said. That goal aligns with the year-old Homeless Solutions for Boulder County coordinated entry program, which is aiming to replace an over-reliance on temporary shelter services for the area’s homeless with a housing-first approach, a model based on the philosophy that an individual’s run-ins with the law and mental and physical ailments can be solved or improved most rapidly by a stable living situation.
Obstacles still ahead
But there are barriers to acquiring those resources, even though leaving shelters to fill the housing gap costs $43,000 a year on average per homeless resident for emergency room, jail, court and shelter costs, according to Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, compared to less than $20,000 annually to house a chronically homeless individual in facilities such as Lee Hill that offer long-term case management support.
“The biggest challenges in solving local homelessness are finding the needed rent subsidy (vouchers) and finding the available apartment units,” Boulder Shelter for the Homeless’ Harms said. “Building facilities like Lee Hill take years to come to fruition. Using vouchers on existing units is a much faster way to get people off the streets. However, it requires landlords willing to rent to voucher holders.”
In Longmont, the Inn Between has eight units dedicated to permanently supportive housing for chronically homeless people, with its other 64 units units serving a mix of low-income families and other individuals. The Inn Between’s Micah Homes project being built in collaboration with Longmont Housing Development Corp. and United Church of Christ will add another six units of permanently affordable housing when it is complete, expected to be by next winter.
Commissioners hope the evidence gathered from years of operating 1175 Lee Hill showing no neighborhood complaints, and that surrounding residents’ fears about the facility never materialized, will help prevent contentious public opposition to similar projects.
“The neighbors are all friendly,” Evan said, adding one even donated a pool table to the facility on which he shoots on occasion. “A lot of them say ‘Hi’ when they walk by.”