Study: Denver metro spends at least double on each homeless person than it does for a K-12 student

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DENVER (KDVR) — Denver could pay for the education of as many as six K-12 students in one year with the money it spends on a single person experiencing homelessness.

The Economic Footprint of Homelessness in Metro Denver

The Mile High City’s homelessness problem suffers from an absence of information. Homeless populations are hard to count. Social program funding sources are widespread with complex and shifting relationships. Counting the social programs spending or measuring success rates can be even harder.

The first phase of a new report report detailed a conservative estimate on what organizations in the Denver metro and the City and County of Denver spend on healthcare, housing and other services for homelessness.

To solve the information gaps, 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.

Together Denver organized to defeat a 2019 Denver initiative to overturn the city’s camping ban, an opposition campaign that the Downtown Denver Partnership and a number of other business groups supported.

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.

This is no negligible figure.

It exceeds several of the state of Colorado’s department budgets. At $481 million, homelessness spending in the Denver metro is nearly four times the 2021 budget for the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and hundreds of millions more than the labor and employment or the public safety departments.

The dollars spent per person experiencing homelessness meet or exceed some of average Coloradan’s financial numbers.

The Common Sense Institute estimates between $41,679 and $104,201 per year spent per person experiencing homelessness.

For comparison, the median per capita income in Denver is about $45,000 and the median Denver household income $68,592 – meaning that even at the lower range of spending estimates the metro is spending the same amount per homeless person that the average Denverite makes in a year.

Services to the homeless cost between two and five times more than the average Denverite pays in rent, as well, at $21,156 in annual rent.

Similarly, the cost of a single homeless person’s yearly services would pay for between two and six Denver Public Schools students’ yearly expenses. The city spends $19,202 on a single k-12 student in DPS.

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