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State of Homelessness 2023 addresses misconceptions, myths about unhoused population

Metro Denver Homeless Initiative released the study the same day temperatures dropped to dangerously low levels.
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Posted at 9:44 PM, Jan 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-19 10:07:58-05

DENVER — On the same day that temperatures dropped dangerously low in Colorado, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI) released its 2023 State of Homelessness report.

The report used several sources to support its findings, which include the region’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), the 2023 Point in Time (PIT) count, and the Colorado Department of Education’s McKinney Vento Act.

“The State of Homelessness is our attempt to look at a few different data sources to create a more complete picture of what homelessness looks like in metro Denver over the course of a year," said Rebecca Mayer, interim executive director of MDHI.

MDHI listed the following as its key findings:

  • A total of 30,409 people accessed services related to homelessness between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023
  • Homelessness is a reflection of systemic failures rather than personal shortcomings, by and large
  • The housing wage for a two-bedroom apartment is $35.84/hour. The average wage in the seven-county metro area is $14.17
  • The #1 contributing factor of homelessness is relationship problems and family breakup
  • The #2 contributing factor of homelessness is an inability to pay rent or mortgage
  • 94% did not choose to experience homelessness according to HMIS
  • 88% of respondents since 2015 reported a last permanent address in Colorado, meaning people are not moving here to experience homelessness
  • More people are newly homeless (44%) than chronically homeless (30%), especially among families (50% vs. 13%)
  • They know every veteran experiencing homelessness by name in 5 out of 9 subregions and have a goal of full regional coverage for veterans by the end of 2024

“In this study, we're able to bust a couple of myths," Mayer said.
Mayer pointed to data that shows the majority of respondents since 2015 reported a last permanent address in Colorado, which she said means people are not coming from outside of Colorado to experience homelessness. She added that the 94% of respondents who said they did not choose to live on the streets defeats another common misconception.

“When we talk about the issue of homelessness, there are often a lot of misconceptions and myths, and it can allow folks to feel like that is not an issue that they should care about or that they should try to solve," Mayer explained. “We really feel like homelessness is solvable, and the more we can help folks understand that issue, the more support we can have in our community to those efforts.”

Mayer said the report shows the BIPOC community is disproportionately impacted by life on the streets.

“We really want to highlight in the report that this is not an individual failure, that there are systemic forces that contribute to creating this environment where folks experience homelessness," Mayer said.

The City of Denver extended its cold weather shelter activation through Saturday, Jan. 20 due to the cold temperatures. Chase Greenberg was one of the people who utilized the city's resources on Thursday night.

“It's a really good part on the city's end of doing things. I mean, it makes sense. You can't let people freeze to death," said Greenberg. “I am employable, and I want to work. I think that the cold temperature is kind of impeding on that a little bit.”

Greenberg said he became unhoused following the death of his fiancé. He tried to numb the pain after the loss and started living paycheck to paycheck.

“Not everybody who's homeless or, you know, on the streets is a drug addict or alcoholic. And even if they do drugs or drink, that doesn't make them a bad person," Greenberg said.

The annual Point in Time count for those experiencing homelessness is scheduled to start Jan. 22 and last through the next day. The count is required by the federal government. Volunteers are needed in Aurora, Westminster, Adams County, Arapahoe County, and Broomfield County. To learn more, click here.

State of Homelessness 2023 addresses misconceptions, myths about unhoused population

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