Seeing the problem: Homelessness in the Denver metro

Problem Solvers

DENVER (KDVR) — The Denver metro area is in the grips of a homelessness problem that only seems to be growing, and although money is flowing to it, solutions seem evasive.

There are more homeless people here now than ever before, and more of them are chronically homeless than ever before.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers spent months interviewing homeless people, homelessness advocates and nonprofits, police and city officials about the depths and possible fixes of one of the city’s most visible issues. Throughout the metro area, residents walk through entire blocks of homeless encampments that are occasionally swept by city workers, only to appear again.

The problem is worse now than it ever has been, according to federal data.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, keeps annual counts of the nation’s homeless in every state and metro area. The Point-In-Time count accounts for all unsheltered and sheltered homeless people on a single night in January or February.

Critics say these counts are routinely an underrepresentation of the actual population.

Even so, the point-in-time count for the Denver metro area shows more homelessness now than ever before. The 2021 point-in-time count did not count unsheltered persons because of COVID concerns. From the previous years’ percentage of sheltered to unsheltered persons, however, there are now 6,857 homeless persons total — 1,327 of whom are unsheltered.

The number of these homeless people who are chronically homeless instead of going through a rough patch is at a new peak.

In 2020 — the most recent HUD point-in-time count available — the metro area had 1,867 chronically homeless people living in shelters and on streets. This is more than double the number from any year before 2017.

Despite the issue growing, the city and advocates are spending more and more money on it.

The Common Sense Institute, a business-focused organization, partnered with the University of Colorado Denver’s Inworks program, the Downtown Denver Partnership and Together Denver to pin down spending and outcomes.

The report’s estimates group the spending from Denver Health, Denver Police Department, Denver Fire Department, Denver’s Homelessness Resolution Fund and charitable organizations.

The Denver metro spends just under a half-billion dollars a year: $481 million. Most of that is spent in Denver. Denver itself spends $435 million on homelessness.

The City and County of Denver disputes the Common Sense Institute’s findings, however, saying the study double counts what the city grants to non-profits and what the non-profits spend, among other issues.

Read the full statement from the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative on CSI’s findings.

With contributions in reporting from Carisa Scott and Serena Ung.

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