Denver Creates Strategy for Homeless Services, Still Needs Improvement

Published on February 03, 2022

People experiencing homelessness in the park outside the Denver City Hall.

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DENVER – Denver took positive steps to start building a strong foundation for services for people experiencing homelessness. However, Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien, CPA, says some audit recommendations remain incomplete in a new follow-up report and the city continues to face challenges.

“A new agency and a complete strategic plan are important first steps,” Auditor O’Brien said. “But the city still doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to supporting people experiencing homelessness, which is why I hope our planned future audits related to this topic will be valuable to city leaders and our community.”

In our 2019 audit of homeless services, we noted a lack of a cohesive overall strategy along with unclear authority and understaffing. This hindered the city’s ability to comprehensively address homelessness or measure the effectiveness of its efforts.

Soon after our audit, the mayor replaced the Denver’s Road Home division, which was part of Denver Human Services, with the new Department of Housing Stability. The new department started leading efforts to address both housing stability and homelessness resolution on Sept. 27, 2019.

The Department of Housing Stability began its strategic planning effort at the end of 2019 with a target date of August 2020 for publishing a draft of its long-range strategic plan. However, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted its progress as staff shifted their focus onto efforts to keep people experiencing homelessness safe from the impacts of the virus.

The City Council approved the new five-year strategic plan in November 2021. It includes strategies, performance measures, and policy recommendations specific to homelessness. This will help the city address its previously fragmented approach and use its funding to support defined goals.

“Denver has a large amount of money budgeted to support services for people experiencing homelessness,” Auditor O’Brien said. “A centralized and strategic approach to spending that money will support more efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars.”

However, the new department still has not completed a staffing analysis to ensure the department has the resources needed to successfully accomplish its goals.

Our audit noted staff were overextended in 2018 and had to take on time-consuming tasks outside their job descriptions. They had not completed a staffing analysis in more than 10 years, leaving staff to possibly assume duties beyond the scope and experience requirements of their job descriptions.

Notably, our audit found staff did not include a data analyst, which many peer organizations have. Since the time of the original audit, we found no evidence of an assessment of the necessary number of staff needed for positions related to policy development and data analyses.

“Many members of the community have asked the mayor, the department, and me for data related to homeless services such as money and resources spent on sweeps,” Auditor O’Brien said. “I was previously told they weren’t tracking that information, but I hope to get the data in our future audit work. Having staff support to track these numbers is a clear priority from the community.”

The new Housing Stability Strategic Advisors group also does not have bylaws including key elements we recommended in our audit report. They need a detailed process for conflicts of interest and regular performance reviews.

The city implemented two of our recommendations from this audit, partially implemented one and failed to implement two others.

Denver’s problems related to homelessness are complex and involve many issues, including lack of affordable housing and mental health issues.

In 2018, the city budgeted around $37 million for homeless services and increased that to more than $51 million in 2019. According to the mayor’s 2022 budget, investments in affordable housing and homelessness resolution will include $190 million from the General Fund, dedicated funds, and federal recovery dollars, plus another $39 million from the proposed 2021 bond package.

As noted in the 2022 Audit Plan, we expect to begin audits related to homeless encampments and shelters in the next year, as well as an audit of affordable housing.


Timothy O'Brien Official Headshot
Denver's Auditor

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