DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Douglas County Commissioners are celebrating because they say they've reduced the number of people living on their streets, but homeless advocates say the data they're using might not correlate to an actual decrease in homelessness.
Republican County Commissioner Abe Laydon said preliminary numbers from the Point in Time Count, a one night a year event where volunteers survey people living on the streets or in shelters in their community, showed 27 people were unsheltered on January 30th. That's compared to 50 people unsheltered in Douglas County on January 24th in 2022.
"So why are we seeing this 46% reduction?" Laydon asked. "We really attribute all of this success to our HEART team and law enforcement officers."
HEART is their new Homeless Engagement Assistance Resource Team. And while the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative supports that work, MDHI said there are too many variables with the count to compare one year's data to the next.
Dr. Jamie Rife, the director of MDHI, added that she can't confirm Douglas County's Point in Time data because they have yet to complete the process of ensuring the accuracy of the numbers.
“We’re working very well as a region," said Laydon. "We’re not sending anyone to other municipalities. We do have navigation teams in vehicles. So if people have family in other areas, then transportation will be provided on a voluntary basis."
Cathy Alderman with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless said outreach can only go so far without shelter for all.
Douglas County currently has a Winter Shelter Network for women and children in crisis, and limited hotel vouchers.
"When you have shelter services in your community, and you're moving people into shelter, and you're working with them for housing resolution then you can say you're solving homelessness," said Alderman. "But if you're not even starting with that first step of providing people a safe place to be, especially in these cold months, then you're really just shifting homelessness to other areas of the state that are providing those services."
Last year, the county faced criticism for plans to send people experiencing homelessness outside of the county.
"I want to be really clear though that we are not taking anybody anywhere," Laydon said. "If they ask, we will take them. So if they have an aunt in Lakewood or Aurora, or if they have a family connection, absolutely. But it's entirely on a voluntary basis."
Back in October, the county also created a new position for a reintegration deputy, who helps with inmates that have no place to go after they are released.
Laydon said that 86% of people in the jail are not local to Douglas County.
Since the job was created, they have transported 24 people to places like sober living homes or shelters, all of which were outside of Douglas County.
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