Anniversary Interview Series with Jamie Van Leeuwen

What have we learned about who needs supportive housing and who doesn’t?

Jamie Van Leeuwen: We have learned that when our public, private and nonprofit sectors are at the table, we can work more collaboratively and strategically to develop homeless programs that meet the needs of our respective communities.  Through this collaboration, we can align local resources to mobilize before homelessness occurs.  We have learned that the faces of homelessness look different depending on the context of the community such that chronic homelessness looks different in Denver than it does in Fort Collins.  It is incumbent on us to understand who the homeless are in each of our communities in order to serve them better.  We must realize that individuals are homeless for complex reasons, including mental health issues, incarceration, and other traumas and that these problems can be best addressed locally with state and national policy and resource support.

What have we learned from supportive housing’s experience in homelessness and how this lesson can be applied to other sectors?

Van Leeuwen: We have learned that ending homelessness is possible when we approach homelessness more collaboratively.  We understand that housing our homeless is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.  The money we spend as a community to ignore this issue far exceeds the monies it takes us to solve it.

What are the most promising policy opportunities?

Van Leeuwen: We have a unique opportunity to learn what works from our communities across the country.  There are great models from New York City to Minneapolis about what it takes to house the homeless, reduce costs, and improve the quality of life for the communities in which we live.

Given all the economic constraints, how do you make the case or what is the most compelling argument for supportive housing?

Van Leeuwen: The answer to this is intuitive in that it is more expensive for us to ignore homelessness than it is for us to solve it.  Given all the economic constraints in our communities, I would argue that we can no longer afford to not house the homeless.

In 10 years from now what will supportive housing look like / what role will it play in our community?  What is your most radical bold vision?

Van Leeuwen: I believe that what we have been able to demonstrate in the work that has been done in the past five years, is that homelessness is solvable; that it is not naive to think that we can create enough housing, services and employment services to ensure that no man, woman or child has to sleep in a car or reside in a shelter for six months.  My radical bold vision is not that we will never see a homeless person again as we know that there are a number of circumstances that will always precipitate individuals to face challenging situations.  Rather, I believe we can create a system of care that ensures that any person who has the misfortune of being impacted by homelessness has access to a system that offers them a healthy alternative to living life on the streets. Homelessness is a symptom of community and system failures at local, state and federal levels.  We all need to recognize our role in contributing to homelessness.  It is not acceptable that mental health issues manifest into incarceration and homelessness.  We are failing our most vulnerable.

Jamie Van Leeuwen is the Senior Advisor to the Colorado  Governor & Lieutenant Governor

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