World history buffs who also happen to follow local government in Denver must have noticed an uncanny parallel this week between the City Council — and the apparatchiks who ran the old Soviet Union. A jarring comparison, sure, but read on.

The council on Monday unanimously approved a new five-year strategic plan to address homelessness. Which reminds us of the onetime U.S.S.R.’s repeated five-year plans to boost that country’s forever-flagging wheat harvest.

Like the Soviet five-year plans, the Denver council’s plan offers no practical means of achieving its stated goals. The Soviet plans were built on the ruins of previous failure. So is the council’s plan. The architects of the Soviet plans seemed to learn almost nothing from previous mistakes. Ditto for Denver’s latest plan to tackle homelessness.

If Denver’s plan makes any concession to reality in light of previous errors, it’s that it’s less ambitious than the last effort. It pledges to, “reduce unsheltered homelessness by 50% from 2022 to 2026”; “increase annual households served in housing programs from 1,800 to 3,000”; “increase households who exit shelter and outreach programs to housing from 25% to 50%,” and so forth.

Think of it as an incremental approach to failure rather than one that goes all out. But it’s still the same old fire drill. Or, to invoke Santayana’s truism for the history buffs out there: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The council appears poised to do just that in its latest bid to address homelessness. Only, this time, they’ll do it in only five years.

It was the administration of now-U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper — then Denver’s mayor — that came up with Denver’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, also known as, “Denver’s Road Home,” in 2005. Great name; swift marketing; high hopes — and it wound up on the ropes. Once heralded and later conveniently forgotten, the plan did not end homelessness. To say the least.

Even before Hickenlooper’s plan was laid to rest at a quiet memorial service during the administration of Mayor Michael Hancock, it was clear there was nothing lasting to show for the effort. Nine years into the 10-year plan, local news reports confirmed the number of homeless in Denver not only wasn’t in decline — but in fact had risen.

The person in charge of the effort even acknowledged defeat: ”I think it's clear that's not going to happen," Denver's Road Home then-Executive Director Bennie Milliner said of the 10-year goal in one local newscast.

"Jesus said, 'the poor you'd have with you always,' and I'm not in a position to argue with Him."

That was in 2014. How do things stand in 2021? As noted by The Gazette in its report this week on the council’s resolution to curb homelessness, there were about 5,530 homeless people living in shelters in the Denver metro area, according to an annual count. Another 1,185 people are unsheltered, according to estimates from the city’s Department of Housing Stability.

That’s plenty of people and yet should, in theory, be straightforward enough to fix, no? Just appropriate enough funding for the right mix of measures. Get hard-core street dwellers in shelter; get those in shelters into short-term housing; get those in short-term housing into affordable, permanent housing. Or, something like that. We’re not the experts but there are people at Denver City Hall who claim to know this terrain. Just give them the money, right?

But there’s the rub. Denver and the greater metro area have in fact been forking over the money for years now. Shoveling it over, in fact. A groundbreaking report Colorado’s Common Sense Institute released in August concluded that nearly half a billion — billion — dollars a year is spent on the homeless in combined public and private funding in metro Denver alone.

As the institute’s report noted, that’s $41,613 to $104,038 per homeless person in Denver based on homeless population estimates that have ranged anywhere from around 4,000 to over 10,000. Given the latest estimates of homelessness in this week’s Gazette report, the annual expenditure breaks down to very roughly $70,000 per person. Each year.

And yet, the city continues to ask for more. Just last year, Denver voters agreed to a sales tax hike for homeless services. Next year’s city budget allots millions more to fighting homelessness, as was the case with the deluge of federal COVID relief funding. Still, no light at the end of the tunnel.

None of which is to say the situation is hopeless. But before Denver as a community can figure out more effective ways to reduce homelessness in a lasting, constructive and cost-effective way, it has to stop doing the same old things that don’t work. And it has to stop whistling past the graveyard, eyes shut tightly, as it hails successive, meaningless plans.

What we’ve been doing doesn’t work. Doing it again won’t work any better. They say you can’t go home again; clearly, the council missed that memo as it heads down Denver’s Road Home — yet again.