Report puts $2B price tag on spending to combat homelessness in Denver

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(The Center Square) – A new report puts a nearly $2 billion price tag on spending to combat homelessness in the Denver metro area.

The report by the Common Sense Institute, a free-enterprise think tank, examined the growth of the homeless population in Colorado, in addition to spending, resources, deaths and health care. CSI found that between 2021 and this year, $1.9 billion will be spent on homelessness by federal, state, local and private entities.

“Since 2016, there has been a 58% increase in Metro Denver’s unhoused population,” CSI Executive Director Kelly Caufield said in a statement. “It’s a public policy challenge that dominated the election season and generated conversations in neighborhoods across the state, and, rightfully so, this is an issue that pulls at our heartstrings and challenges our compassion.”

“The picture is bleak,” Caufield added. “More children are unhoused, mortality rates are higher than the average population, and Denver Health’s spending on homeless care has risen 34% in the last three years.”

In 2022, 226 homeless individuals died from various causes, CSI said, citing Denver Office of the Medical Examiner data. That’s up 67% since 2018.

“Over half (56%) of the unhoused who died in Denver in 2022 died from a drug overdose, 126 in total,” the report said.

There are 1,383 homeless individuals under 18, according to the latest point in time count in the metro area.

“Children are increasingly affected, with a 600% increase in homeless unaccompanied children since 2016,” according to CSI.

The report also detailed how Colorado cities are “spending more than ever” to combat homelessness. Denver, which has the largest homeless population in the state, also accounts for 86% of spending in the metro area, CSI said. Spending on the issue has grown 62% since 2021 in the city.

The city of Denver plans on spending tens of million of dollars on converting hotels for homeless, with wraparound services included, as part of Mayor Mike Johnston’s new homeless initiative. According to CSI, spending on hotels and motels for the homeless amounts to $80,000 per room.

Caufield stressed that the report is “not to criticize” efforts to combat homelessness, rather provide more information to help Coloradans find a solution.

“There are communities finding success combating this challenge and we hope some of the best practices will translate to success in Colorado,” she said.

While Denver has seen its homeless population grow by 33% between 2020 and 2022, San Antonio, Houston, and Rockford, Ill., have seen declines in their homeless populations, Caufield noted.

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