Affordable Housing and its impact on mental health & a community’s well-being

By Carl Clark, MD, President & CEO, Mental Health Center of Denver

Many people believe that “home is where the heart is.” At the Mental Health Center of Denver, we have altered the old adage because we believe that “home is where the health is.” Stable, affordable and safe housing is critical for a person’s – and a community’s – health and well-being. While Denver is experiencing unprecedented growth with skyrocketing rents and housing prices, incomes have not kept pace. The state of affordable housing for all residents in the Mile High City needs to be addressed.

We’re not alone in our concerns. A recent survey shows affordable housing is Denver residents’ top concern, with homelessness ranked third. Additionally, ninety-four percent of survey respondents consider home affordability to be a serious problem.

Despite the concern over rising cost of rents and houses, building a wide base of public support for the issue is challenging. A prevalent perception is that if housing is expensive, people can “just move.” There is a disconnect amongst people on just why this issue is so critical to the well-being of an individual, a business and the community. And of course, there is the old “not in my backyard” mentality towards the homeless and affordable housing solutions.

Housing, much like mental health, affects all of us and intersects with almost every other social issue, from education and health to employment and public safety. Simply put, safe and affordable housing is critical to a person’s well-being. It’s very challenging for someone who is experiencing homelessness to keep a job or stay healthy. And when someone is strapped with financial stress and unable to make their rent or house payment, they are at risk for experiencing trauma that can undermine their mental health.

The stress of expensive housing and fear of homelessness affects a wide range of people, from working professionals who, despite having a stable job, have difficulty finding an affordable place to live to people who rely on public assistance for their housing. It is a health issue, causing trauma and unendurable stress as people struggle to live in the Mile High City. Many people who lose their homes are working people who have a health issue or setback like divorce. It’s especially heartbreaking when families are impacted by homelessness and the desperate search for affordable housing that can drive them from their established roots.

The Mental Health Center of Denver works in several ways to promote affordable housing and combat homelessness. First, we provide permanent supportive housing through our Sanderson Apartments and are collaborating with St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on a project to develop 48 more units in downtown Denver

Second, we have a Housing Department dedicated to helping the people we serve find and retain housing. This is no easy feat these days and our staff are faced with additional challenges as the demand grows and the inventory shrinks.

And now as part of our initiative to “reframe” the conversation around affordable housing, we are hosting a public event entitled Beyond the Most Livable City: A Home for All in Denver. This Speakers Forum will take place on March 27, 5 – 8 p.m. at History Colorado, 1200 Broadway in Denver. Our keynote speaker – Tiffany Manuel, PhD, Vice President of Knowledge, Impact & Strategy at Enterprise Community Partners – calls on housing advocates to adopt a more effective way of talking about housing affordability, and will speak to us about how to use this new approach to make progress in our own work. We hope that coming out of this event our guests will feel motivated and empowered to join us in advocating for affordable housing.

A supply of safe, affordable homes is critical to the well-being of Denver. As a community, we cannot thrive if so many of us live with the constant fear of displacement and homelessness.

Visit https://mhcd.org/speakers-forum/ to learn more about our Beyond the Most Livable City speaker forum.