Weld Way Home 2.0 leans into homelessness prevention with city’s increasing investments

An updated plan to prevent and end homelessness in Weld County is picking up steam as the local United Way works with community partners to achieve the plan’s goals.

Shawn Walcott, United Way’s director of household stability, facilities the Weld Way Home 2.0 strategic plan — an upgrade from the initial plan with a concentration on preventing homelessness, rather than reacting to it.

Walcott’s passion for working to support housing stability stems from seeing his own mother experience homelessness for 13 years.

“It really is a combination of professional passion as well as a personal history that makes this cause really important to me,” Walcott said. “I really value community. I love Greeley and Weld County, and I want to give back my skills to be able to help my fellow neighbors and community improve.”

This year, residents can expect United Way staff to begin taking critical strides in the 11 priority areas of Weld Way Home 2.0 with additional support from the city of Greeley.

The city in September hired Juliana Kitten as assistant city manager, with responsibilities honing in on homelessness and housing needs in the community.

“I’ve only been here since September, but this community has been just really great,” Kitten said, highlighting nonprofits. “Very, very dedicated people working super hard with, unfortunately, limited resources. And yet people still need to meet the needs of the people they’re serving.”

Juliana Kitten will serve as assistant city manager beginning Sept. 19. (Courtesy/City of Greeley)

What to expect in 2023

Back in November, Weld Way 2.0 launched a homelessness awareness campaign, “Housing Solves Homelessness,” to increase awareness about the realities of household instability and how to remove the stigma surrounding it.

“Everyone generally knows somebody that’s struggling with homelessness or housing instability,” Walcott said. “And the first step is acknowledging that people are people. And that they need assistance.”

Though a lot of Weld Way Home 2.0’s work, such as the awareness campaign, is still in its planning and community gathering phases, there are a few efforts materializing in 2023.

Walcott said homelessness is a systemic challenge, not an individual failure, which means people from all sectors of the community have to help.

One example is an increase in funding, allowing the city of Greeley to launch a housing case management team to build capacity and work in coordination with United Way staff at the Housing Application Center.

When applying, Kitten said she partnered up with both North Range Behavioral Health and United Way on how to best utilize the grant. The grant works specifically with 60 people who have the longest histories of homelessness, as well as the highest utilization rates of different kinds of crisis services, such as emergency rooms, ambulances and hospitalizations.

Along with case management support, the funding will go toward housing vouchers —  which are permanent, as long as the city continues to meet the grant requirements.

Since North Range and United Way already know the people who meet the criteria under the grant, the city plans to have weekly referral groups with the organizations. Simultaneously, Kitten will continue to build up the case management team.

The city’s team will converse with staff partners to obtain critical information — what they know about the person and what’s been helpful to them.

Referral groups will help the city ensure staff is providing everything they can for a person based on what their needs are while collaborating with their partners who will resume working alongside those people, according to Kitten.

“It’s just the only way to make this really, really work because no one entity can do it all,” Kitten said. “You have to have partnerships, and they have to be a diversity of partnerships. When you bring all of those different members and partners together to focus on this concern, you do it quicker, you do it better and you’re just much more successful.”

Kitten said the program will help more than just people experiencing homelessness. By providing housing for 60 people, and covering the rent, the project could mean more dollars for landlords, she explained.

The project is a demonstration of the Housing First model, an evidence-based approach that recognizes housing as a basic human right, Kitten said. Housing First supports people accessing permanent housing without having to meet prerequisites. Kitten hopes other providers will find interest in following the model after seeing a successful implementation by the city of Greeley and its partners.

Walcott said Weld Way Home 2.0 is also coordinating street outreach efforts with some agencies across the county to help locate and assist the community in situations where people might not know where to go for help — services Kitten said every partner in the community needs.

A grant is pending to help agencies in southern Weld expand these efforts, according to Walcott.

Another big step for Weld Way Home 2.0 is the expansion of the Housing Navigation Center’s cold weather shelter. The new space for the cold weather shelter adds showers and laundry facilities while remaining open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“That will provide a little bit of stability for the next few years … to help coordinate services for people experiencing homelessness and provide that one-stop-shop for people to figure out what they can do to find resources,” Walcott said.

Other actions that have momentum include the landlord engagement group, coordinating between Weld and Larimer County, which works with landlords to identify barriers and challenges. The group has also applied for funding to increase engagement.

In March, United Way will host a landlord engagement event to see how landlords fit into the picture of solving homelessness and household stability.

The city of Greeley is also hiring a contractor to conduct a housing market analysis. In August, the analysis will provide information about the affordability of types of units, what income levels and gaps in the housing continuum from affordable housing up to executive housing.

Additionally, Weld County, state and federal funding will help support further housing efforts.

Weld Way Home 2.0 background

Weld Way Home 2.0 is an updated version of the original Weld Way Home strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness in Weld County. The original plan, which started in 2016, set the foundations for improving homelessness response structures throughout the county.

By 2020, the United Way team recognized many of the priority areas outlined in the initial plan had been achieved —  meaning an update was needed. Teams and community partners created a new framework for the system to keep going forward and build on the momentum of the first plan.

“It’s definitely not a brand new plan that came out of thin air,” Walcott said. “It’s a continuation of the great work that’s been happening for years by the collective impact groups, led by a group of 30-plus organizations and representatives that provide feedback and input and guidance and help to make the work happen.”

In creating the new plan, teams looked at data to see where people were struggling, specifically with homelessness prevention. The big addition to the updated plan was moving the work away from addressing homelessness to focusing on preventing homelessness.

“We need to be thinking more and more about prevention,” Kitten said. “We can’t just work on the back end. We need to focus on the front end. If we could stop people from having to fall so far, right? Because it’s so much harder, so much harder once you’ve lost your place, once you’ve hit the shelter.”

Weld Way Home 2.0 has 11 priority areas, four of which are continued from the previous plan. The new areas, which address prevention and systemic challenges in the community, include advocacy, landlord engagement, police partnerships, coordinated household stabilization assistance, transportation, information sharing and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Weld homelessness trends

At the Housing Navigation Center, there are about 400 people enrolled in services and looking for housing resources, Walcott said. Out of those, 250 have been staying at the cold weather shelter.

Shelter capacities remain a concern and a challenge, he said, because there are not enough beds for the number of people showing up to the shelter. This means many people still don’t have places to sleep in the evenings.

Walcott said there is also often a stigma that people are coming to Weld County to utilize the services. Though there are a few people who do relocate to the county because of capacity issues across the state, most people are from Weld.

Out of all the people at the navigation center, about 60- 70% of them have been in Weld County for five years or more, according to Walcott.

“It’s an overwhelming majority of people who are in the community, and they want to stay in the community,” Walcott said.

Due to COVID-19 funding ending and other factors contributing to housing instability, a lack of resources is causing a lot of fear about an overwhelming increase in the homelessness rate, Walcott explained.

Though Weld County hasn’t experienced a huge increase, there has been a slight increase in the number of people needing assistance.

Resources in the county are managing to keep up with the slight increase, but additional capacity and support are needed to start moving in the right direction, according to Walcott.

“We’re now in a good position to hold off any kind of major increase, but we need to add that additional push and resources to make the push to end homelessness,” Walcott said. “And we’re moving in that right direction with the city of Greeley increasing their investment in the work.”