Homelessness surged in metro Denver in 2023, according to point-in-time survey

Homelessness in the Denver metro area got significantly worse between the winter of 2022 and 2023, according to a point-in-time count of people living in shelters or on the streets.

On January 30, 9,065 people were counted as homeless in the Denver area, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. That total is a more than 31.6% increase over the point-in-time count of unhoused people performed in January 2022.

Since January 2020, the number of unhoused people in the metro area has spiked more than 48.5%, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, or MDHI. It’s a spike many service providers saw coming as the COVID-19 pandemic upended the economy and housing prices continued to surge in the Denver region.

MDHI is the metro area’s federally mandated continuum of care agency around homelessness. It coordinates the annual point-in-time count and tracks other data around homelessness. While the single-night numbers are alarming, Jamie Rife, MDHI’s executive director, stressed in a news release Monday that broader tracking of people interacting with the metro area’s homeless services provider network shows there are likely closer to 28,000 people who have experienced homelessness at least on a short-term basis, over the course of the entire year.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Once again, the city of Denver — home to most of the metro area’s homeless shelters and service providers — is far and away the leading community for homelessness. Those conducting the count found 5,818 people living unhoused in Denver with the remaining 3,247 people counted spread across Adams (948), Jefferson (854), Boulder (839), Arapahoe (442), Broomfield (92) and Douglas (72) counties.

A majority of the people accounted for during the point-in-time survey — 6,302— were staying in homeless shelters, transitional housing or safe haven programs for people fleeing abuse. But 2,763 were counted as “unsheltered” meaning they were sleeping on the streets or other places not meant for human habitation, according to HDMI.

Again, most of those who were considered unsheltered were found in Denver, 1,423.

Newly sworn mayor Mike Johnston has been using 1,400 as a rough estimate of the number of people living in tent encampments, in cars or other situations that would qualify as unsheltered.

Winning the mayor’s race this year in part on the back of a bold campaign promise to end unsheltered homelessness in his first term in office, Johnston last week declared a state of emergency around homelessness in the city as his first official act in office. That declaration is aimed at knocking down administrative barriers to setting up temporary housing more quickly as Johnston and his administration race to make housing available to at least 1,000 unhoused people by the end of the year.

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