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Family homelessness in Denver skyrockets

With limited resources to begin with, the city has to explore new options for sheltering families and keeping them together.

DENVER — The number of families who find themselves with no home, searching for a place to sleep with their kids in Denver has skyrocketed. 

There weren't enough resources for families experiencing homelessness to start with, and now the situation is even more pressing. 

When a family reaches out and says they need shelter and a safe place for their kids, Cathy Alderman with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless said it means they have nowhere else to turn.

According to Alderman, a lot of families don't necessarily want to reach out for services.

"They would have to be separated in some instances." She said. "And so, families really try to find other family members to stay with, or sometimes they'll stay in their cars."

Midori Higa with the city of Denver said they've seen a 244% increase in family homelessness since the pandemic, where the peak of families coming into shelters was around 240.

That may not even be the full picture.

"We just don't have a lot of shelters built out for families," Alderman said.

Now, more people are left with no choice but to ask for that help. Various factors are contributing to the increase in numbers: being priced out of the housing market, rising rent and evictions.

Downtown, "huge apartments building are going up but with micro units. They don't have enough bedrooms in those units to support those families," Higa said.

COVID-19 complicated things, too, as families juggled kids, the cost of living and working.  

So, in a tight market and short on resources, the city is working on putting more money toward rapid re-housing for another 100 families. 

In this program, the city helps find empty homes, apartments and townhomes and then covers some of the rent. The goal is for families to eventually take over the lease.  

The city is also working to increase shelter capacity 

"We anticipate having a full lease of a motel, so that entire building would be dedicated to family shelter operations," Higa said.

The city said the motel would have as many as 150 additional rooms. 

It would also like to infuse more resources and support to meet families where they are so kids can keep their routine, but it's hard to tell if these efforts will be enough.

"We don't really know the breadth of issues, because so few families seek out services," Alderman said.

It will require careful juggling with a finite pool of money.

"If child doesn't know where sleeping at night hard to pay attention at school. If they don't know where their next meal will come from, they may not be able to build the social relationships and friendships that they need with others- because they are in constant stress," Alderman said. 

She also said these children are more likely to experience homelessness and housing instability later in life. 

The city said it's still working on finalizing contracts to expand services, which is expected to cost more than $10 million, and it anticipates some of the expanded services launching in the next few months.


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