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'My takeaway is: We see it' | Homelessness rises in metro counties outside Denver

The annual Point-in-Time count specifically looks for those experiencing homelessness for the first time.

DENVER — The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI) 2023 Point-in-Time (PIT) count released Monday showed a more than 30% increase in people experiencing homelessness over the year before.

The count was done Jan. 30 and included those staying in shelters and outdoors. The count found 9,065 people experiencing homelessness, a 31.7% increase from 2022. The number of those who are experiencing homelessness for the first time is up from 2,634 to 3,996, according to the report from MDHI.

The number of families experiencing homelessness rose from 1,277 last year to 2,101 this year, according to the report. This includes families experiencing homelessness for the first time, which went up from 597 in 2022 to 1,316 in 2023.

The PIT is an annual look at homelessness on a single night, with numerous variables such as weather, count participation, volunteer engagement and a variety of other factors.

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“While the region continues to improve, our count and was able to locate 9,065 individuals on a single night experiencing homelessness, the Homelessness Management Information System used by our providers allows us to see this number is closer 28,000 throughout the course of the year,” said MDHI’s Executive Director, Dr. Jamie Rife. “We need to keep moving towards understanding who is experiencing homelessness in real-time and by name, so our response is as effective as possible."

The data also shows a dramatic increase in homelessness in some of Denver's suburbs. In Adams County, the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless more than doubled from 462 in 2022's count to 948 this year.

Lindsay Earl, who runs the county's program to help people experiencing homelessness, attributes the increase in part to the county adding more homeless navigators who know how to find more people. She also said the county lacks the nonprofit resources of other suburban counties, which means there is less rental assistance available. Earl said Adams County has more sheltered individuals because of an enhanced program to provide cold weather motel vouchers.

Earl said Adams County conducted its own summer point-in-time count, speaking to 43 people, and 100% of them said they are interested in finding shelter or other housing, which counters a common narrative that homelessness is a choice, she said. 

Jefferson County saw its sheltered and unsheltered population increase by about 350 from 2022, with volunteers counting 854 people on that day in January.

“I think my takeaway is: We see it," said Cassie Ratliff, chief impact officer for the nonprofit Family Tree and a volunteer who was out on the streets counting this year. "We see those numbers. We see folks camping out in a lot of places.”

In Jefferson County, data shows the unsheltered homeless population jumped 152% in 2023's count, with 453 people counted living on the streets.

“Our unsheltered number rose drastically - that also makes a lot of sense here in Jefferson County," Ratliff said. "We don’t have a shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Jefferson County.  So there’s not a space for folks to go.”

Ratliff said the data from this count is important because it helps organizations that help people who experience homelessness to secure funding.

"We use these to help write grants and obtain funding to tell the story of homelessness and how it’s impacting our community, she said. "And we need the data to do that.”

In Jefferson County, Ratliff said more people are beginning to see homelessness in their community, which helps efforts toward solutions.

“My years of doing this, we heard a lot of “not in my backyard” - that NIMBYism. We’re starting to see a shift to YIMBY – yes in my backyard – yes we want to serve people,” she said.

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“While the world is no longer in a pandemic, we are beginning to feel the full economic fallout of the COVID-19 era,” Rife said. “With COVID-19 relief funds for the prevention of homelessness coming to an end, as well as many other COVID-era protections, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of eviction filings as more households struggle to pay rent. This, paired with inflation and the increased cost of housing, is resulting in many people falling into homelessness and many being unable to obtain housing.”  



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