Women prepare their beds for the night at a Capitol Hill church that offers shelter one night a week to Denver’s homeless women.
Women prepare their beds for the night at a Capitol Hill church that offers shelter one night a week to Denver's homeless women. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)

Denver's homeless shelter system performs well, considering the lack of funding, but it doesn't have an adequate exit strategy to help people escape homelessness, according to an assessment conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The city hired the nonprofit to examine Denver's homeless network, which became a topic of concern last year, when the city passed a law to ban camping by homeless people.

The assessment, presented to a City Council committee on Tuesday, found Denver has less public investment than other cities around the country and that has resulted in lower quality in some cases.

The study also found the city's shelter system was uncoordinated and doesn't give top priority to those most in need.

"The shelters in Denver don't function as a system. They function as individual programs with their own fundraising; management; goals, outcomes and strategies," said Norm Suchar, director of capacity building for the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Cities with coordinated systems for homeless sheltering do much better at reducing homelessness — having established criteria for who can access shelters, giving priority to vulnerable populations and having expected outcomes for each program, Suchar said.

The study also found people are having trouble exiting the system, Suchar said, advocating "rapid re-housing" to give people temporary help to get back into permanent housing.

Suchar said getting people back into housing should be Denver's top priority to end homelessness.

Bennie Milliner, director of Denver's Road Home, agreed that the lack of affordable housing is the biggest challenge facing the Denver area.

"We have to continue to work to increase transitional housing," he said, adding that the city needs at least 200 more transitional housing units.

The city also needs about 300 more emergency shelter beds. About $1 million has been set aside in the 2013 budget for a new shelter and services.

The assessment also had other recommendations, including developing a coordinated intake system so homeless people can contact one entity to be assigned to a shelter bed or other assistance and to develop "system-wide standards for safety, cleanliness, resident rights, data, outcomes and staff training."

Milliner said Denver's Road Home also is doing an evaluation of the shelter system and will have a larger discussion of what is needed with the Homeless Commission in April.

"This was meant to be a snapshot in time of where we are as a shelter system," Milliner said. "We wanted an indicator of where we were in comparison of other large cities. In many ways we are ahead, but in some regards we are behind."