Nearly 90% of people who are homeless in Denver were already living in Colorado, report shows (2024)

Relationship problems, family breakups, inability to pay rent or a mortgage, losing a job and inability to find work are the top contributing factors leading people into homelessness across metro Denver, according to the findings of an annual report released Thursday.

Far more people in the seven-county metro area are newly homeless as opposed to chronically homeless, according to the 2023 State of Homelessness Report compiled by Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, the regional system that coordinates services and housing for people who are homelessness.

Over 90% of the 11,779 people surveyed said they did not choose to become homeless, the report said, disproving a common notion that homelessness is a personal choice.

Of the 9,085 people who shared previous address information in the homeless management information system since 2015, 88% reported a last permanent address in Colorado, according to the report.

9,085 out of 10,276

People who gave their last previous address gave a Colorado address

People also are not moving to Colorado because of the legalization of cannabis and becoming homeless, another common myth, the report states.

Homelessness is caused by systemic failures and not personal shortcomings, according to the report, which uses four data sources and surveys from people with lived experience in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties.

“When we use data collected throughout the year to measure the scope of this crisis, we can more effectively plan an equitable system response that is geared toward ending homelessness,” said Rebecca Mayer, interim executive director at Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.

The purpose of the report is to educate the public about homelessness in metro Denver, humanize people who are homeless, combat misconceptions about people living outside, in shelters or in cars and describe the work being done by human service providers to reduce the number of people staying in places not meant for human habitation.

Data used to produce the report was entered by about 100 agencies across the metro Denver region and shows an annual account of homelessness.


Who is homeless in Denver? Let’s look at the numbers.

The latest homelessness count in the Denver metro area shows over 9,000 people either sleeping on the streets or in shelters. And that doesn’t even include the growing number of migrants.

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Because the data is collected over time, it better represents the scope of homelessness than the region’s point in time count, when people who are homeless are counted on one night in January.

The 2023 State of Homelessness report shows 7,217 people stayed outdoors at some point during the year compared with 2,763 on the night of the 2023 point in time count, for example.

The 2022 State of Homelessness report showed 7,334 people stayed outdoors at some point during the year, compared with 2,078 on the evening of the point in time count that year.

There were 9,065 people counted during the 2023 point in time count, up from 6,884 people counted during the 2022 point in time count. The point in time total includes people sleeping outdoors and those who are housed in some type of emergency shelter or transitional housing.

The State of Homelessness findings come just after Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s office said it met its goal of sheltering 1,000 people by the end of 2023.

A surge of about 38,000 Central and South American migrants who have arrived by buses from the Texas border since December 2022 are also finding themselves included in the region’s homeless crisis. Not all of them stayed in metro Denver. But as of Thursday, there were more than 4,300 migrants living in emergency shelters and hotels.

The State of Homelessness report does not include data specifically about the number of migrants who are homeless.

“What we’ve seen for the last few years is these numbers are increasing and I think that that’s alarming because even with the mayor’s new initiative of bringing more people inside, more people are falling into the cycle of homelessness,” said Cathy Alderman, chief communications and public policy officer for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which helps with the point in time count and enters data into the homeless management information system.

“And if we can’t slow that flow down, it will be really difficult for the system to respond and get people back onto stable pathways to housing,” she said.

More than 30,000 people accessed homeless services between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, in the metro area, the report found. About 45% were seeking services for the first time.

During the 2021-22 school year, public school districts in the metro area identified almost 10,000 students who were homeless, the report states.

Rising rents and low wages make it increasingly harder for people to find and keep stable housing in one of the most expensive metro areas in the country, according to the report.

A list of factors leading to homelessness

Housing is the solution to homelessness, yet Colorado has the seventh highest housing shortage in the country, with a gap of nearly 70,000 units, the report says.

Renting or owning a home in the metro Denver area is becoming more and more out of reach for Coloradans.

Dwindling resources for financial assistance, the lack of affordable housing, domestic violence, employment challenges and issues with mental health or addiction are on a long list of factors contributing to homelessness, according to the report.

Homelessness is not limited to the people seen living outside. A less visible population of people who are homeless includes children, families and young people.

In the metro region, 3 in 4 people who are homeless live in emergency shelters, transitional housing or other indoor areas.

A high number of families are newly homeless. The head of these households are typically women and most of those households have one to three children. Trauma contributes to homelessness for more than half of those families.

An unnamed woman included in the report said she was kicked out of their mother’s house at 17, after she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.


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“In between the moments of being kicked out, I spent time on the streets at night, often getting harassed and assaulted due to my physical appearance of being a girl,” she says in the report. “It took a year of this before I was old enough to be considered for housing. This shaped me as a person who grew to deal with extreme anxiety and learn to face it head-on with the help of my best friend.”

Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the seven-county Denver metro area is $1,864, according to the report. To afford that level of rent and utilities, a household would need to earn $74,554 per year, the report says.

Men and people of color are consistently overrepresented in homelessness in the State of Homelessness report and the point in time count.

For example, 64% of men were homeless between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, compared with 34% of women who were homeless within that same time frame.

Native American and Pacific Islander people are five times more likely to be homeless in metro Denver compared with their makeup in the general population. Black people are 3.7 times more likely to be overrepresented, Native Americans and Alaska Natives are 3.6 times more likely to be homeless and multiracial people are 1.6 times more likely to be overrepresented, according to the report.

In metro Denver and across the country, people of color are overrepresented in homelessness because of the country’s racist history and inequitable policy decisions in health care, criminal justice, education, housing, child welfare and income, according to the report.

More than 20% of white and Asian households fell into the upper-income category in Colorado, compared with less than 10% of Black, Native American and Alaska Native households.

Almost 5% of Coloradans are Black, but nearly half of all Colorado households were considered lower income, making it harder for them to rent or purchase housing.

The homelessness crisis, made worse by the pandemic, is becoming harder to adequately address but local service providers say one hopeful trend shows homelessness can be reduced.

In 2023, the number of homeless veterans in metro Denver dropped to 391 from 468, down 16%. According to the report, 415 veterans were housed in 2023.

“Our goal for 2024 is to functionally end veteran homelessness in 4 out of 9 subregions,” the report says. “This means homelessness for veterans becomes rare, brief and nonrecurring.”

Metro Denver Homeless Initiative will share monthly updates on progress toward reducing homelessness among veterans.


This story was updated at 4:08 p.m., on Jan. 19 to correct the number of Coloradans who identify as Black.

Type of Story: News

Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Nearly 90% of people who are homeless in Denver were already living in Colorado, report shows (2024)
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