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Homelessness rising in suburban areas with fewer resources and services

You could walk for miles in places like Jefferson County or Douglas County and not come close to any services that help the homeless.

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — On the streets of Arvada, homelessness isn’t always obvious. But in suburban Colorado, the number of people living on the streets and in shelters is going up.

You could walk for miles in places like Jefferson or Douglas counties and not come close to any services that help the homeless. Places like food banks and shelters are few and far between in suburban Colorado.

"We suspect that we’re going to see more families experiencing homelessness," said Cassie Ratliff, chief impact officer with Family Tree in Wheat Ridge. "Homelessness is going up and in Jefferson County. We’re seeing the rise in first time homelessness."

Ratliff works with Family Tree to help people who’ve been impacted by abuse, violence and homelessness. She knows there aren’t enough resources in the area to help everyone.

First time homelessness increased by more than 250% in Jeffco between 2020 and 2022, from 66 people to 235, according to the county. Last month, 9NEWS was there as they counted the number of people living on the streets this year. They expect the number to go up as people who are unhoused move farther outside Denver.

"Homelessness doesn’t end at a street, or a county or a city," said Ratliff. "People are crossing these lines all of the time."

On the other side of Denver, Katherine Smith in Arapahoe County shares a similar story. She’s the Community Resources Director who also knows she can’t help everyone who needs it.

"About 40% of our 2022 count were first time experiencing homelessness. We continue to see that increase," said Smith. "We did see an increase through our point in time counts, a significant increase of over 100% in all areas, through our point in time count last year."

Douglas County has said that the number of unhoused people is going down, but even there, where there are very few people experiencing homelessness, the number of people housed in their shelters is increasing.

"The number of individuals who are being cared for right here in Douglas County actually increased," said Abe Laydon, chairman of the Board of Douglas County Commissioners. "Our unsheltered population from 2022 to 2023 went from 50 to 27. The number of sheltered individuals went from 28 to 30."

Family Tree in Jeffco is developing 85 units of permanent supportive housing. The goal is that finding a home will lead to a job and more security. 

In Denver, there are a lot of voices talking about the homeless. But well outside the city, places with even fewer resources struggle to keep up.

"While I might not have the resources today, you can bet I’m going to start looking for them and we’re going to start bringing them in," said Ratliff. 

The Point in Time Count numbers for all counties in Colorado are expected to be released later this year.

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