Jul 24, 2023 - News

Point-in-time count shows sharp rise in homelessness across metro Denver

An encampment of unhoused people near 20th and Curtis in downtown Denver on April 13, 2023. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The number of people experiencing homelessness in metro Denver rose significantly this year compared to 2022, with more families enduring the hardship for the first time.

Why it matters: The sharp rise illustrates how homelessness is only worsening despite millions of dollars being spent by local governments to provide spaces for sheltering and permanent housing.

By the numbers: 9,065 people — a 31.7% increase — were listed as unhoused during the annual point-in-time count on Jan. 30, according to data released Monday by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI).

  • 70% (6,302) are sheltered, meaning they're staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing, while the remaining population is unsheltered, living in places like cars, parks or sidewalks.
  • Families experiencing homelessness rose across the region, from 1,277 last year to 2,101 this year. The number of people who were homeless for the first time rose too from 2,634 to 3,996.

Between the lines: Inflation, housing costs and the drying up of pandemic relief money are leading to more people struggling to pay rent, facing evictions and ending up homeless, Jamie Rife, MDHI's executive director, said in a release Monday.

Details: The count is a single-day snapshot, but it's required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide information about the homeless population.

  • It covers seven counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson.
  • Terese Howard, of the homeless advocacy organization Housekeys Action Network Denver, tells us because it's only a one-day count, the number of people experiencing homelessness is likely higher.

Zoom in: Denver, the largest of the seven counties, has 5,818 homeless people.

  • His spokesperson Jordan Fuja tells us in a statement the new data shows homelessness is a crisis requiring "urgency" to address.

Of note: The report does not include people staying at migrant-only shelters, "couch surfing" or staying with friends or families — another concern for Howard who says this could make numbers look lower than reality.

What's next: Johnston announced Monday that he hired Cole Chandler, who most recently worked for the state's human services department, to lead a 10-person team focusing on his administration's goal to shelter 1,000 people.

  • Chandler is known for developing tiny home villages and safe outdoor camping sites in Denver.
  • The city on Monday activated its Emergency Operations Center to help coordinate Johnston's plan.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information about responses to Denver's point in time count.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more