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Denver mayor activates emergency center as report finds 31% spike in homelessness

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(The Center Square) – The day after a Denver nonprofit organization found a 31.7% increase in homelessness, the city and county of Denver activated its emergency operations center to get homeless people sheltered.

The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, a nonprofit and federally designated agency focused on ending homelessness, on Monday released its annual “point-in-time” report conducted on Jan. 30 that detailed the increase. The count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and includes all staying in shelters and outdoors.

Individuals experiencing homelessness for the first time increased 52%, from 2,634 last year to 3,996 in 2023, according to the report. Families experiencing homelessness increased 65%, from 1,277 last year to 2,101 this year. Families experiencing homelessness for the first time more than doubled as the number increased from 597 in 2022 to 1,316 this year.

Jamie Rife, executive director of the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, said the organization is awaiting verification of the count by the federal government, but it was shared for planning purposes.

“While the world is no longer in a pandemic, we are beginning to feel the full economic fallout of the COVID-19 era,” Rife said in a statement. “With COVID-19 relief funds for the prevention of homelessness coming to an end, as well as many other COVID-era protections, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of eviction filings as more households struggle to pay rent. This, paired with inflation and the increased cost of housing, is resulting in many people falling into homelessness and many being unable to obtain housing.”

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston signed an emergency declaration on July 18 to get 1,000 people indoors. The emergency operations center will identify and secure locations for homeless services and housing and track pertinent information. It also will coordinate encampment outreach efforts, as well as coordinate the creation of “micro communities.”

“We have a moral obligation to make sure everyone in Denver can get indoors, and activating the Emergency Operations Center is an important step in that direction,” Johnston said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more grateful to the city workers who time and time again dedicate themselves to addressing our city’s most pressing issues.”

Johnston’s office reported the emergency response includes engaging with people living in encampments, reducing public health risks and minimizing trash accumulation until the encampments can be permanently closed.

“Enforcement of the camping ban and large-scale encampment closures will continue,” according to a media release.

Rife said while the annual count located 9,065 individuals on one night experiencing homelessness, its year-round tracking estimates the number is closer to 28,000 annually.

“We need to keep moving towards understanding who is experiencing homelessness in real-time and by name, so our response is as effective as possible,” Rife said.

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