A coalition of Broomfield partners has joined Built for Zero — a collaborative effort that aims to end homelessness.
Marrton Dormish, minister of community outreach at the Refuge, said he heard about Built for Zero this summer and got connected with regional members in September.
So far the Broomfield sub group has representatives from essentially every stakeholder group in Broomfield, he said, including Broomfield Health and Human Services, workforce, Mental Health Parnters, the city manager’s office, Broomfield FISH and Broomfield’s Emergency Operation Center. Clinica Family Health has also been invited since it serves Broomfield clients.
“We have, for a long time, had a lot of people that do really good work and work really hard,” Dormish said, “but we’ve not had the approach or the infrastructure that really allows us to take some significant steps forward in terms of actually making a dent in our population of people who are homeless.”
Ian Fletcher, who works with Community Solutions — an organization that leads the Built for Zero campaigin nationally — said more than 80 communities across the country are participating in the work. He is the systems transformation advisor for the Metro Denver region, which Broomfield recently joined and includes seven counties in the area as part of the Metro Denver Continuum of Care — Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson.
Metro Denver has been participating as a region since 2015, he said, with a focus on veteran homelessness.
“Built for Zero is really founded in this notion that we can end homelessness,” Fletcher said. “While it’s a big challenge, it is not one that is unsolvable.”
They’re looking at veterans as a “proof point” to show that, provided the resources and the organization and coordination among providers, that significant reductions can be made. It has happened nationally over that period of time, he said, with veteran homelessness dropping by 50% to 60%. The idea behind this group is that veterans are the most diverse group experiencing homelessness — racially, gender wise, family setups, age and whether they have long or short histories with homelessness.
They are also disproportionately impacted by homelessness, Fletcher said, with 5% to 7% of the population being veterans and the homeless population ranging from 11 to 13%.
In the past five years, the group has made great strides with partners and hope to take the lessons members have learned to support communities, such as Broomfield, while understanding each community’s unique needs.
“Homelessness in Denver looks very different than what it looks like in Broomfield,” he said. “When you only look at it one way, you only have one solution.”
Their work is rooted in a by-name list of people who are currently unhoused. For Broomfield, the hope is to begin building that in early 2021 and inviting partners to the table who can add to that list.
“We want to recognize and honor the individual experience of homelessness rather than this amalgamation of all these numbers. We want to say it matters that John Q veteran has needs A, B and D and Jane Q has needs C, F and N.”
There are two ways to reach those populations. In-reach means connecting people going to places that serve homeless populations or secondary service providers, such as libraries and hospitals, that interact with those populations. Out-reach involves trained individuals that go into encampments they know of and engage with people there, Fletcher said.
How they do that is by using local homeless management information system software, a database most service providers use, to look at people’s needs. Alongside a name, it could include whether someone is chronically homeless, newly homeless, whether it is COVID-related or deals with high housing costs. The database could identify whether someone lives outside or frequents shelters and looks at how to address the needs of people who fall within those groups.
It uses science and data to see trends and analyze whether the work the partners are doing is heading in the right direction — and why or why not.
What is exciting about Broomfield is while the Denver Metro group focuses on vets, the scale of Broomfield is one that is small enough to include all homeless people, which averages between 150 to 200, on that list.
Of those living on the streets, in vehicles, in motels or doubling or tripling up in homes, Dormish estimates roughly a couple dozen are veterans.
The veteran list for the whole region is 500, Fletcher said. Recently there has been a focus on racial equity within Built for Zero on how communities of color in particular are impacted by homelessness, whether they are being served in the same way as their white counter parts and if they have equitable outcomes.
One tool the movement uses is case conferencing, which means partner reps discussing a group of people and asking “what is their path toward housing and what are the barriers?,” Fletcher said.
Instead of then asking a person to navigate the system on their own, the partner groups can coordinate how to help that person in crisis, Fletcher said.
The list is not public, but is limited to providers who sign agreements with the homeless management information system to guard and secure people’s information, he said, similar to a hospital’s system. Clients also sign a release, or give verbal consent, to have their information added.
Law enforcement officials do not have access to that list as a policy of the organization, Fletcher said, even though members of the department may participate in cases conferencing in a “very narrow way.” Officers will not be able to see where homeless are staying overnight or seeking services.
Documentation information, or lawful status, will not be tracked in a way anyone could use for “nefarious purposes,” he said. Someone’s status could come up at case conferencing, but will not be written down in a way that is reportable.
One challenge with people who are undocumented is that they may not be eligible for particular resources, he said, but that’s not a reason for not adding them to the by-name list.
“It just means the options to get them housed might be more limited and we have to think creatively and that’s what case conferencing is for,” Fletcher said.
Build for Zero works with anyone regardless of backgrounds, he said, including those who might be registered sex offenders, which could also exclude them from federal programs. Those individuals would still have to notify neighbors.
“We also work with survivors of domestic violence,” Fletcher said, adding they go through the process anonymously.
Dormish, who has been doing this type of work for 10 years, said joining with Built for Zero feels like the first time he’s had reasonable hope that they can make significant headway in eliminating homelessness.
“It combines infusing human dignity into the process with a very rigorous procedure for metrics,” he said. “You get numbers and you get the humanity. It really is a good combination.”
With this approach, they can take bites out of the problem, Dormish said, starting with vets and moving onto high-risk groups like single mothers or people with mental health challenges. The Broomfield group will likely meet monthly, he said.
Once emergency needs are met, partners can look at other issues such as helping someone get a new ID, which could have been lost or stolen, so that person can get a job with help from workforce.
The shift goes from being agency-centered to being person-centered, Dormish said, and it could be a series of obstacles. Another step could be connecting a veteran with Tim Hutchinson, Broomfield Veteran Service Officer, with help finding services.
The beauty of this approach is that aspects can be customized the by the community, Dormish said, and can change depending on changing circumstances.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” Dormish said. “Communities are empowered to figure out the details for what works best for them.”
Broomfield is looking at what it can get accomplished in two years, he said.
To learn more visit joinbuiltforzero.org.