Homeless Encampment

Homeless people lined along 14th Avenue across from Civic Center Park hours after restoration begins. 

The solutions need to be as varied as the problems that cause homelessness in the seven-county Denver metro area, according to the second phase of a Common Sense Institute analysis released Monday morning.

The Denver-based business think released the back half of a report titled "The Economic Footprint of Homelessness in Metro Denver," a follow up to an August release that looked at how taxpayers' money is spent on the issue that has eluded the city for years.

On a conference call with reporters Monday morning, the paper's authors said more research is needed, as well as more collaboration between the organizations involved and leadership to find solutions on housing accessibility and affordability, rather than doing more of the same. The issue is complex and challenging, said Dan Griner, the director of design, innovation and strategy at University of Colorado Denver.

"I wish I could say there is one starting point, but all of these things need to happen," he said. "There are people who are experiencing this right now, every day."

The report is a collaboration between the Common Sense Institute and the University of Colorado Denver. Work began in January and included interviews and information from organizations working on the issue in the metro area. The second phase maps out a way for them to work more closely together to get at the sources of people living on the streets and speed up the remedies with different interventions and investments, the paper's author said.

"There are many types and ways to become homeless and for people to find themselves in a vulnerable state," Griner said. "And there are much fewer ways out of that situation. Trust in the system and the services and the barriers that exist — these have been challenges for those who experience homelessness.

"Stronger collaborations and partnerships at every level are a must for continued growth and better outcomes, increasing reliance on technical solutions for the public present access challenges for those experiencing homelessness, skilled paid staff are in short supply, and this presents a challenge to consistent effective management and running of organizations."

Griner also is the Common Sense Institute's University of Colorado Inworks fellow.

Read the full report by clicking here.

The first phase of the report found that nearly half a billion dollars has been spent on homelessness in Denver. That total doesn't include all organizations' or government spending, nor does it add in all the costs to medical providers. 

In his State of the City address this year, Mayor Michael Hancock pledged to  "deploy every tool available, with a goal of lifting thousands of people out of homelessness over the next two years."

Last year, Denver voters approved a 0.25% sales tax increase that is expected to bring in an estimated $40 million annually.

City voters are currently weighing in on the issue of homelessness again.

Initiative 303, led by Denver Republican Party chair Garrett Flicker, would enact a ban on camping on private property, with a three-day notice, and require the city to come up with four camping locations on public property. The sites would have to include lights, bathrooms and running water.

Hancock and the entirety of the Denver City Council opposes 303, calling it a legal quagmire with previous court orders and an unfunded mandate from voters.

Flicker told Colorado Politics the measure builds on previous wishes of the public demonstrated at the ballot box, namely in 2019 when they opposed doing away with the city's urban camping ban nearly 5 to 1. The city passed the ban in 2012.

Since then, efforts to overturn the ban on sleeping in parks, sidewalks and other public places at the state Capitol, called "right to rest" bills, failed repeatedly and was not part of this year's legislative session.

“There are a variety of programs doing impactful work in meeting the different needs of people experiencing homelessness,” stated Kristin Strohm, the institute's CEO and president. “Our goal with this phase was to document what’s working, where there are opportunities, where there might be gaps, and ultimately learn from them to solve this crisis.”

The report draws on earlier work on the issue from CU Denver , as well as that of Denver-based Urban Peak, the city nonprofit Senior Support Services, the Boulder-based Bridge House’s "Ready to Work" analysis and the Community First! Village program operated by Mobile Loaves and Fishes in Austin, Texas.

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