Aug 3, 2023 - News

Denver's homeless deaths highlight "urgency of the situation"

Data: Denver Medical Examiner; Chart: John Frank/Axios

People living on the streets of Denver are dying at higher rates now than anytime in the last five years, raising the stakes on the mayor's much-hyped pledge to end homelessness.

Driving the news: So far in 2023, 166 people experiencing homelessness have died — more than 50% higher than at this point a year ago, the Colorado Sun reports.

  • The preliminary total puts the city on track to exceed the five-year high of 226 recorded in 2022.

Why it matters: Mayor Mike Johnston spotlighted the alarming number of deaths at a recent event, and he said in a statement that it "underscores the urgency of the situation" that led him to declare a state of emergency on his first day in office.

State of play: Homelessness in the metro area rose significantly in 2022, up 32% to more than 9,000 people compared to a year ago, according to the latest count.

  • The fatal trend started in December last year, according to Ethan Jamison, an epidemiologist with the Office of the Medical Examiner, and continued to set records in every month except March and May.
  • Accidental overdoses, often attributed to fentanyl, are driving the number upward.

What they're saying: "You don't even feel comfortable enough to tell somebody that you're not feeling well or that you're having a hard time with a health care condition or you've been criminally attacked or something like that," Cathy Alderman at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless told the Sun.

  • She said safe and secure housing is the answer. "It literally means life and death for some people," she added.

What to watch: Johnston announced Wednesday that his administration would resume efforts to forcibly remove homeless camps starting Friday, even as he acknowledged that the city doesn't have temporary housing for the residents.

  • An administration official previously said the mayor wouldn't authorize large-scale sweeps, but Johnston now says he supports them.
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