DENVER, Co. — People who’ve been in prison are more than 10 times more likely to end up homeless. This turned out to be true for Walter Boyd.
“My whole life was falling apart and I just, I didn’t know what to do,” said Boyd.
Divorce, a pandemic, then homelessness. Things looked bleak for Boyd two years ago when he found himself sleeping on a cot at a homeless shelter.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of there. You know, I did eight years of prison, and I was like man I had a better chance in prison,” said Boyd.
But from the depths of that despair, Walter was given a lifeline he didn’t expect.
“I came in and somebody said a lady from housing is looking for you. I said, 'Looking for me?' They don’t look for people for housing. You get put on a list and you get lost. She left her number and said to call her. So, I called and she said, 'Mr. Boyd, we’ve been trying to put you in housing,' and I almost passed out man,” he recalled.
What took his breath away was a little old studio apartment nearby. It’s the result of a new program in Denver.
“The Denver social impact bond was one of the first social impact bonds in the country to focus on addressing homelessness and the homelessness to jail cycle,” said Katie McKenna, with Enterprise Community.
“The social impact bond program was targeted at 250 chronically homeless individuals who had frequent interactions with the criminal justice system. The idea is with some private investment and some city and state funding that we would be able to house individuals at a cost savings to the taxpayers,” said Cathy Alderman, with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
McKenna and Alderman were part of the partnership to make this happen.
The money came from social impact bonds, which are funded by private companies for government programs. If the programs become profitable or save money, the funds are repaid sometimes with profit.
In this case, the funds were used to house the homeless, with impressive results.
“77% of people in the program remained housed,” said McKenna.
The results are notable because 50,000 people go directly from jail to a homeless shelter every year and the homeless are more than 10 times more likely to interact with law enforcement than people in general.
“34% less interaction with law enforcement, 40% less arrests, overall people spent less time in jail,” said McKenna.
“We don’t have enough re-entry programs for people coming out of the criminal justice system into housing and so they end up right back in shelter, right back on the street and then the cycle perpetuates,” said Alderman.
The program has been so successful at disrupting the cycle in Denver, it’s been expanded. There are also similar programs in at least 15 cities across the country.
For Boyd, it’s made all the difference. He’s been in his apartment for two years. He’s on disability but he’s been able to find some other work as well.
“My home is somewhere I can come to when things is not going right and I can just have that time to myself and figure it out,” said Boyd.