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DENVER (KDVR) — No one disputes the fact that the homeless problem in Denver has never been worse. 

“I’ve been working at this for 36 years and I agree, it’s as bad as it’s been, certainly the visibility of the population,” CEO and President of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless John Parvensky said.

Parvensky’s organization is the largest in Colorado dedicated to ending homelessness. Yet even with an annual budget of $100 million, he said it’s not enough.

“One hundred million dollars doesn’t solve homelessness when you do the math,” Parvenksy said, before adding, “To build housing costs money — costs more than I would like to see.”

He told the Problem Solvers soaring housing costs and a growing population of the mentally ill have contributed to rising numbers of homeless people living on the streets of Denver.

Stout Street clinic treated 15,000 in 2020

About 30,000 people across the Front Range will experience homelessness this year, most for only a few weeks or a month.

On any given night in Denver, the homeless population is about 5,000, with 76% staying in shelters and 24% living on the streets.

Parvensky said most of the homeless population prefers to stay downtown because that’s where most of the services that cater to the homeless are located, including the headquarters of the CCH and the Stout Street Health Center that it operates.

The Stout Street clinic employs 250 staff members who treated 15,000 individuals (100,000 visits) in 2020 for medical, dental, vision, psychiatric and pharmacy needs.

“We’re able to do that at a fraction of the cost of an emergency room, which is where homeless people usually get their care,” Parvensky said.

9-story apartment, medical center, under construction

Next door to the Stout Street Health Center, the CCH is constructing a nine-story building at 21st and California streets that will serve homeless people who would otherwise fill up city hospitals.

The first three floors are a care center to treat 75 homeless people with acute medical needs.

“That if they were housed, they would just be discharged to a home, but they can’t be safely discharged to the street. They may be in a wheelchair, they may be on oxygen, they may be on an IV drip,” Parvensky said.

The top six floors of the building will contain 98 one-bedroom apartments intended for medically frail individuals.

“We work with Denver Health and we’ve identified that some of the most expensive patients they have are people experiencing homelessness,” Parvensky said.

Former hotel converted to 139 apartments

In 2020, the CCH did something else innovative: it bought a former Quality Inn Hotel at 3737 N. Quebec St. and turned it into Fusion Studios.

Now, the former hotel contains 139 apartments housing homeless individuals and couples. It cost $8.4 million to build, but a spokeswoman for CCH told the Problem Solvers building the same amount of low-income housing from the ground up could have cost anywhere from $22-$35 million and would have taken two years to complete. Converting a hotel to studio apartments took just six months.

Fusion Studios is one of 20 buildings the Colorado Coalition has opened over the past three decades that house 2,000 formerly homeless people.

The organization uses tax credits, private investments and government grants to fund its operations.

Just a few weeks ago, a subcommittee of the Denver City Council amended a three-year contract with the CCH to provide $10.2 million to help 234 homeless people with permanent housing and case management. That breaks down to about $14,589 annually for each person helped.

“So if it weren’t for what we were doing, there would be more people on the streets and it would be costing the city much more than what they are paying organizations like us to shelter, provide housing and health care to people,” Parvensky insisted.

With contributions in reporting from Carisa Scott, Serena Ung and DJ Summers.