With the average one bedroom apartment hovering around $1,300 a month, many families are finding they can no longer afford the rent.
Tracking the number of homeless people is not an exact science. The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative conducts a “Point-In-Time-Survey” on one day every year to try and get a snapshot of the state of homelessness in the region. Participation among the homeless is voluntary and many families likely go uncounted if they’re staying with family and friends.
Even so, the numbers are concerning. In Denver County alone the 2016 Point in Time showed that of the 3,631 total number of people considered homeless in Denver County, households with children represented 2,036 respondent households (2,095 total homeless). By comparison, in 2015, of the 3,737 total people considered homeless in Denver County, 1,460 were households with children.
Another survey conducted by the Department of Education asks public schools to track the number of homeless students. In the 2014-2015 school year 24,685 Colorado students were recorded as homeless.
There’s a huge need across the region. Organizations like Family Promise, with the mission of assisting homeless families, frequently turn down parents and children looking for shelter.
“We get 10 to 15, even 20 calls a day from families in need. And on a week like this where we have no openings, we have to say no to each one of those families,” Allie Card, Executive Director of Family Promise said.
Crystal Olko and her two young kids were one of the lucky families. Family Promise found them a room in the basement of Lakewood United Methodist Church. They’ve been staying there for several weeks and Crystal’s been getting case management from Family Promise.
“For someone that doesn't have any connections, any family in Colorado, it's like a second family. Because I don't have anyone and now I have a support system,” Olko said.
Card and others point to a lack of affordable housing in the area. It’s a work in progress. Denver City Council, for example, just approved an affordable housing plan expected to raise $150 million over the next 10 years.
Time is not on the homeless’ side. Olko had to get out of her nearly $1,100 dollar Thornton apartment, forcing her into shelter. She’s on track to get into affordable housing soon. Plenty of others aren’t so lucky.
“They depend on you for everything. And it's like you let them down. It's like a total let down to them. That's the worst feeling to a mother. Is to let your kids down,” Olko said.