Aug 6, 2021 - News
Homelessness in Denver to come to a head this fall
A photo of a social worker helping a homeless woman on the sidewalk
An outreach staffer with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless offers help to a resident living without shelter in 2016. Photo: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

This fall is shaping up to be a critical moment in Denver's decades-long and largely losing battle against homelessness.

Why it matters: The city saw a 21% increase in homelessness between 2018 and 2020, resulting in nearly 4,200 unhoused residents — and experts are anticipating an even steeper spike this year because of economic hardships caused by the pandemic.

What's happening: This week, Denver's Department of Housing Stability released a spending and strategy proposal that could shape the city's future.

  • The five-year proposal intends to achieve 14 goals by 2026, including ending veteran homelessness, reducing unsheltered homelessness by 50%, and creating and preserving 7,000 homes.
  • The City Council will vote on the proposal in November as part of the 2022 budget process.

Also in November: Denver voters will weigh in on a ballot measure backed by Denver GOP chairman Garrett Flicker that would give residents the power to sue the city if illegal campsites aren't cleared within 72 hours of a complaint, while also requiring the city to establish sanctioned campsites on public land for people without homes.

Meanwhile, a report released Thursday by the conservative-leaning Common Sense Institute found the city is spending more than $434 million a year on homeless services.

  • That's based on data gathered from Denver Health, the city's police and fire departments, charitable organizations and the homeless resolution tax fund city voters passed last November.
  • The group calculated that Denver agencies annually spend between $41,613 to $104,038 for each homeless person — at least twice as much as renting a one-bedroom apartment in the city for a year. The large margin reflects a lack of available figures from several city agencies.

The other side: The city's housing agency is questioning the accuracy of CSI's reporting because it "duplicates" certain funding and "mischaracterizes nonprofit spending on homeless to include their work in other areas," spokesperson Derek Woodbury tells Axios.

What's next: Denver's housing agency is seeking public comment on its five-year plan through Sept. 3, after which it will be finalized and advanced to the City Council.

  • The Common Sense Institute plans to identify which expenditures are making the most impact in curtailing homelessness and make recommendations to city leaders by early fall, said president and CEO Kristin Strohm.
  • The group also plans to publish a first-of-its-kind online data dashboard detailing the flow of resources and the current and future state of homelessness in the metro area.
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