Homelessness in Colorado rose again this year

A report released today by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that homelessness in Colorado rose again in 2017, continuing a multi-year trend driven by metro Denver’s affordable housing crisis.

The 2017 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) estimates that Colorado’s overall homeless population grew by about four percent, from about 10,550 in 2016 to 10,940 this year. The figures are based on data collected on a single night in January 2017.

Nationwide, this year’s AHAR survey marks the first time the total number of homeless Americans has increased since the nadir of the Great Recession in 2010. That’s due in large part to surging levels of homelessness in Colorado and other Western states; California’s homeless population spiked by almost 14 percent since 2016, and now stands at over 130,000 people.

In Colorado, California, and elsewhere, experts place blame for rising homelessness on a crisis in affordable housing. A report released earlier this year by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent in Colorado, renters must earn an hourly wage of $21.97 — more than double the state’s current minimum wage.

Last year, the Denver City Council approved the creation of the city’s first dedicated affordable housing fund, which is expected to raise $150 million over ten years to fund subsidies for low-income housing development, expanded homeless services, first-time home-buying assistance, and more. In September, Mayor Michael Hancock announced a five-year plan to address housing affordability and displacement issues, but housing justice advocates criticized the proposal for not going far enough.

HUD’s report did offer some good news for Colorado: the number of people in families with children who reported being homeless declined by about 700 statewide, an 18 percent decrease from 2016.

But that drop was more than offset by a 17 percent increase in the number of homeless individuals, who make up the majority of the overall homeless population. Colorado’s reported increase of 1,121 homeless individuals was the third-largest in absolute terms in the country, just behind the vastly more populous states of New York and California.

The report also found a nearly 30 percent spike in the number of Coloradans who are considered chronically homeless, defined as “an individual with a disability who has been continuously homeless for one year,” or who has been homeless for a combined 12 months in the last three years.

One in five homeless Coloradans now meets this criteria.