The Denver Opportunity Index (DOI) is a philosophical shift in public safety service delivery focused on identifying opportunities for strategic collaboration that will help improve residents’ quality of life, thereby enhancing public safety for everyone in Denver. The DOI is a part of Mayor Michael B. Hancock's Equity Platform.
Using census data, the Department of Public Safety (DOS) analysts reviewed 142 census tracts in the metro area for median household income, education levels social and health factors as compared to city averages, along with the prevalence of crime in each area.
Compiling and analyzing data allows the DOS to look at social factors that may be contributing to behaviors that ultimately impact public safety. It also allows the DOS to have a more robust conversation about what the needs of residents are and how public safety can help them.
The DOS has successfully implemented changes to better address social factors, including the Denver Police co-responder program and the Denver Sheriff transition from jail to community program, there is more to be done to support the health and well-being of residents from a public safety lens.
Meetings are being scheduled to share the Opportunity Index with the community and to learn from community if their experiences are consistent with what the data is showing. That information will be compiled to understand how the DOS can help make connections between those that need assistance and the community organization that can best provide it.
To schedule a meeting in your community, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (720) 913-6020.
Being homeless after leaving jail makes a former inmate more likely to end up back behind bars, with the risk often greatest for those living with behavioral health problems.
The Denver Public Safety Department has partnered with Volunteers of America to embark on a first-of-its-kind program to accomplish something extremely difficult, but urgently needed — a push to house former offenders. It can halt a devastating cycle and reduce the time individuals spend incarcerated.
Only a few months old, COR3 (Colorado Rapid Rehousing for Re-Entry) is using marijuana tax dollars to achieve “fantastic results,” says VOA Division Director Brenton Hutson.
Since October, 64 individuals coming from jails or from the streets with criminal backgrounds have been served by the program. So far, 11 have been housed. More are on their way home. The annual target for participation is 110 individuals, Hutson says. VOA expects that more than three-quarters of those in the program will attain stable housing.
Hutson, a Marine who now heads up VOA’s Veterans and Supportive Services Division, came to Executive Director Troy Riggs after hearing of the Denver Opportunity Index — a new focus on forming strategic collaborations that improve opportunities for residents and enhance community safety.
Hutson has lengthy experience putting a roof over the heads of some of the most vulnerable residents. Working about six years with veteran groups, he’s seen firsthand the trauma and destructive effects of homelessness.
He also knows a basic statistic that makes this program both so critical and effective. For about 85 percent of the homeless population, homelessness is short-term or episodic. With timely financial help and other support removing barriers to housing, most can avoid chronic homelessness and its corrosive effects on their lives.
Gaining access to work with Denver Sheriff Department and connecting with inmates who may not have anywhere to go once they are released makes all the difference, Hutson says. Helping them attain housing can help them stay out of jail in the future.
“It’s so critical,” Hutson says. “The sooner we can remove someone from the experience of homelessness the less trauma they will experience — and the less likely they will be to experience chronic homelessness.”
Former offenders are at a disadvantage competing for the metro area’s limited housing options. In a market that’s tough for everyone, having someone stand in their corner is essential. If you leave jail without a home, Hutson says, you are exposed to public view as you try to meet even basic human needs.
“You almost have to break a law to rest or use the bathroom. You almost have to break the law to survive,” Hutson says. “Housing is so important. It provides a foundation for stability for every other aspect of a person’s life. If you are homeless, it’s so stressful you can’t plan, think strategically or weigh consequences. We remove people from that crisis long enough for them to lays some bricks for their own foundation of stability. They also can engage more readily with behavioral health interventions.”
COR3 assesses inmates, provides them case managers, creates individualized service plans, supports integrated behavioral health care, finds landlords wiling to take a chance and can offer temporary financial assistance.
“We try to get a full and complete picture of what is going to allow that individual to access and maintain housing,” Hutson says. “Is it helping them make a security deposit, pay the first few months of rent, apply for their benefits, make it to a job interview, get a phone or a monthly bus pass. We might help them purchase work clothes or equipment.”
The program sticks with former inmates as they take the early steps in finding and keeping stable housing. It is not a permanent commitment to subsidize housing. It is a step toward self-sufficiency that promises a good return on investment, costing a quarter to half as much as incarcerating a person, Hutson says.
The 33-year-old Hutson’s bent toward service began early. He joined the Marine Corps in 2003 while still a teen and was deployed overseas to Iraq in 2006 as part of a military police task force. While there, he worked in a small detention center and later was tasked with helping to train Iraqi police officers.
After six years in the Marines, helping people help themselves had become part of his DNA. As a 20-something civilian, he started a nonprofit that worked in India and Bhutan developing health care systems and local leadership to run them.
Hutson also had shown a knack for innovation. He was instrumental in creating the University of Colorado’s first individually structured major in nonprofit management — in which he earned a degree. He also earned a master’s degree there in public administration. He has worked at home with Volunteers of America to create its Veterans and Supportive Services Division, which has spread across Colorado.
“I obviously have a place in my heart for veterans, … but I would love it if society were willing to take care of everybody,” Hutson says. “Homelessness is not an intractable issue – it is a disease for which we have a cure that is proven to save communities money and spare families from unnecessary trauma.”
The COR3 program has the potential to drastically reduce costs to taxpayers by ending the cycle of homelessness leading to incarceration leading to homelessness. The average cost of rapid rehousing per inmate is $5,000, or $7,800 with provision of stopgap behavioral health care. The average length of stay in the program is 180 days. Each participant is assessed every 90 days.
“With the continued support of the State of Colorado and our community partners, like the Denver Department of Public Safety,” Hutson says, “it is realistic to believe that we can achieve a functional zero of homelessness for persons exiting correctional institutions.”