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Program gets millions from federal government to help find solutions to homelessness

Posted at 5:58 PM, Dec 10, 2021

DENVER, Colo. — Maurice Cushinberry is proud of his home and everything in it. It’s been his home for three years. Before that, he was out on the streets. He says he got wrapped up in bad habits and addiction – putting him in and out of jail.

“You know, in order to feed my addiction, I had to do illegal stuff,” Cushinberry said.

Cushinberry says he had no place to call home.

“Homelessness is no good," Cushinberry said. "There's nothing like sleeping outside in the cold and doing all this stuff or running around, you know?”

What got him out of it was an opportunity he first heard about when trying to get food at a homeless shelter.

“They were putting out things on a computer to tell me, 'we’re gonna help you with housing' and I was like ‘what?’ I was like ‘yeah right!’

Cushinberry was selected to receive an affordable house in the City of Denver, Colorado. It was part of an initiative called the Social Impact Bond program. Cathy Alderman is with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit directly involved with the program.

“That was a program to house 250 chronically homeless individuals who had frequent interactions with the criminal justice system and by housing these individuals and providing those critical wraparound services, we were able to demonstrate cost savings to the city, specifically in the area of criminal justice, that the city was able to pay back private investors," Alderman said. "That allowed us to build the property that we were housing people in.”

Alderman says the data shows it costs about half to house somebody with supportive services then it would have cost to leave them homeless and cycling through the criminal justice system.

“We're saving taxpayer dollars, we're benefiting the community by bringing more people inside, and we're making like unimaginable differences in people's lives because we're giving them a home where they would otherwise maybe not have one,” Alderman said.

Wrap-around services include health care, mental healthcare, employment counseling, and helping people connect with the community. Cushinberry says the support helped him overcome his addiction.

“This is not the environment that I was in," Cushinberry said. "They pulled me out the dirt and put me in front of it. That's why I like my plants. They put me in fertile environment to where I could prosper and grow.”

Alderman says 77 percent of people who were housed are still in a house.

“I got money in the bank," Cushinberry said. "I got a job and I got a place to live. I’m gonna make this work!"

Now the federal government is contributing about $6 million to go toward a second program. Britta Fisher, the executive director of the department of housing stability for the City of Denver, has also been involved in the successful program.

“Not only will it help us reduce jail days and promote housing stability, it also helps people's health and we could realize Medicaid savings if we would house people so that they can truly get well and recover from illness and not perpetually go from street to hospital street to hospital,” Fisher said.

Fisher says this pay-for-success model is a path forward to resolve homelessness. Especially if the federal government works alongside local and state governments.

“If we can front-load our systems to find pathways to housing and wrap people with supports, we're going to do a lot better as a community and how our dollars are spent," Fisher said. "And it can actually save us money in terms of emergency services, jail days, Medicaid and healthcare costs if we housed people and give them that opportunity to stabilize and to thrive.”

Cushinberry is certainly thriving and he says there’s no going back.

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone," Cushinberry said.