Jan 4, 2022 - News

Homeless deaths spike in metro Denver

Data: Colorado Coalition for the Homeless; Chart: Alayna Alvarez/Axios

Advocates for the homeless are preparing to conduct their annual census just as a new report has been released showing that the number of unhoused people dying in metro Denver has hit a six-year high.

Driving the news: At least 269 people experiencing homelessness in the region died in 2021, a 21% jump from 2020 and a nearly 60% spike compared to five years earlier, according to the report from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

  • Most fatalities resulted from drug overdoses and environmental exposure, data from the city's medical examiner's office shows. Only 21% of deaths occurred naturally.
  • The grim stats correlate to the rising homeless population in metro Denver, which increased 15% between 2018 and 2020, totaling more than 6,100 unhoused residents.

The big picture: The crisis could worsen in 2022 as the pandemic, extreme weather, crime, addiction and a lack of affordable housing continue to cripple Colorado, homeless experts say.

Of note: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's administration launched a "housing surge" campaign last June to address the growing problem, relocating 576 people into shelters within 100 days, a move that may affect the upcoming annual tally.

  • His team plans to launch a similar campaign next month, the mayor's office said in a statement.

Yes, but: Hancock's administration has also created permanent no-camping zones in certain parts of the city to crack down on homeless encampments.

What they're saying: "Yes, we had the [mayor's] housing surge — but then we just had all the fires in Boulder," Metro Denver Homeless Initiative spokesperson Jamie Rife tells Axios. "So how is that going to contribute to homelessness in the region?"

  • Meanwhile, cities across the metro area, including Castle Rock and Lone Tree, are seeing major increases in homeless residents, local leaders say.

What's next: The annual "point in time" census of unsheltered homeless people in the metro area, which typically takes place on a single night near the start of the year, is scheduled for the evening of Jan. 24, Rife says.

  • The survey provides a snapshot of the issue, but significantly undercounts the true number of people without homes, which is roughly five times higher when the count is tallied over a full year by more than a dozen service providers.
  • Data from the count — which spans Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties and the City of Aurora — will be published this summer once it is analyzed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rife tells Axios.

Zoom out: Rising deaths among unhoused people are plaguing cities and states across the country, including Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Utah and Washington, D.C.

  • Experts say even one life lost to homelessness is a needless and avoidable tragedy.

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