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Salvation Army: Denver on ‘breaking point’ with homeless population

DENVER -- It is a problem that is hard to ignore when driving around Denver -- the growing homeless population. Now a captain with the Salvation Army is saying there is a growing crisis.

“If you ask me we are already at the breaking point,” Capt. Eric Wilkerson with the Salvation Army said earlier this week. “We are at capacity."

Wilkerson said the cause it's what many citizens in Denver have suspected -- marijuana.

“People are coming here from out of state to smoke weed,” Wilkerson said.

He fears that come the winter, the city will have a crisis when shelters are an urgent need.

“It wouldn't surprise me  if my population increased another 20 percent this winter,” Wilkerson said.

The city of Denver is not denying legal marijuana has resulted in an increase in homelessness.

“While there isn’t a formal study on the issue, many service providers for those experiencing homelessness tell us, anecdotally, that 20 (percent) to 30 percent of people they encounter who are moving to Colorado tell them that they are moving here, in part, because of legalized marijuana or to try to find work in the industry,” Julie Smith with social services said in an email.

Smith counters that Mayor Michael Hancock has increased resources to address the problem.

“Over the past three years, we have dedicated $14M of city general fund dollars to augment federal and state dollars for affordable housing as part of Mayor Hancock’s '3x5' challenge to create 3,000 affordable housing units over five years," Smith said in the email.

"We are planning to establish a $15M/year permanent, dedicated revenue stream for affordable housing, serving people earning as low as 0 percent of the area median income, that will create an estimated 6,000 affordable housing units in the first 10 years."

Lida Citroen, a branding a marketing expert in Denver, said the city is best served by getting ahead of this publicly. The last thing you want is the city’s stellar reputation threatened by a rise in homelessness. A “homeless problem” threatens the ability of the city to attract major conferences and events.

“It’s always about perception,” Citroen said. “That would not be the reputation I would want for my city.”

Citroen’s advice is to not hide this but to instead use it as an opportunity to lead nationwide on the issue of homelessness.

“Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist because that’s not the reality,” she said.