Community influencer: Isabel McDevitt on addressing homelessness

To elevate awareness and ignite action around or community’s social, economic, and environmental issues, we periodically feature local influencers to enhance the stories and data analyzed in our current TRENDS Report.


By Isabel McDevitt, Executive Director, Bridge House

Would you treat a sore throat with a tourniquet? Would you wear high heels to run a marathon? Would you give someone a boat when he is stranded in the desert?

For too long, homelessness has been addressed with either a one-size-fits-all solution or, worse, the wrong intervention at the wrong time.
How do we change that? 
Thanks to the hard work of many stakeholders – policymakers, service providers, advocates, city and county staff members and, most importantly, people with lived experience – Boulder County recently launched a new framework for homeless services. The concept behind Boulder County’s new system – called the Boulder County Homeless Systems Collaborative – is to increase efficiency and effectiveness of services for adults experiencing homelessness in Boulder County. To achieve these goals, both the cities of Boulder and Longmont have invested in new resources for navigation shelter and case management, while the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless has adapted its focus to provide stable stays for the county’s most vulnerable. Additionally, Boulder County has instituted a new coordinated entry data system to help assess and assign people experiencing homelessness to the right resources, and to track individuals through the system.
Today, services in Boulder County for homeless adults are becoming more robust and targeted than ever before. At Bridge House, we launched our new Path to Home model this summer combining overnight shelter with intentional, housing-focused case management for 50 people each night. Plans are in motion for Bridge House to open a new 24/7 site for our Path to Home navigation program in early 2018, and the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless is on pace to provide 24/7 services year-round. 
Through coordinated entry, individuals experiencing homelessness are directed on a path to best suit their needs, and resources are targeting the most vulnerable among us who are on track for permanent supportive housing at the Boulder Shelter. For those with shorter lengths of homelessness, and who are assessed as able to more quickly resolve their barriers to housing, Path to Home provides seven days of shelter along with intentional navigation plans – including a step-by-step process for a housing search, and practical and emotional supports developed for each individual seeking services. 
Since October 1, Path to Home has helped more than 25 clients achieve housing. Housing outcomes include rentals, family reunification, and creative housing models – including Bridge House’s award-winning Ready to Work program, which combines housing with paid employment in social enterprise. Since the launch of Path to Home, eight individuals have exited the streets through Ready to Work.
But is this enough? Coordinated entry, navigation services, and stable shelter are a good start…but how do we end homelessness? 
As this new system is implemented at the “front door,” we must be vigilant as a community to demand exits to housing. We must strive for creative, affordable housing options; one shouldn’t need to live on the streets for a year or more before finding housing through scarce (yet important!) housing models, such as permanent supportive housing.
To move people out of homelessness, we not only need to build our stock of these units and 30-40% Area Media Income (AMI) units across the county, we need to be open to new and creative housing solutions, such as congregate living models and even roommate situations – and solutions that facilitate reducing barriers to housing, and integrate units into the fabric of the community at a low cost, such as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). We must strive for an attitude of “yes, in my backyard”: our whole community loses when we assume people experiencing homelessness cannot re-integrate into housing. 
I am thankful to the stakeholders, including the Community Foundation, who have sparked this effort and continue to support an efficient and effective response to homelessness that focuses on people leaving the streets for housing…and momentum is building through efforts like the Regional Affordable Housing Strategic Plan
We can do this!