A homeless individual rests near the shade trees in Civic Center Park in downtown Denver on Oct. 2, 2020. (Forrest Czarnecki/The Denver Gazette)

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Denver is vastly higher than previously estimated, a new report by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative revealed Monday. 

The State of Homelessness 2020 report shows that at least 31,207 people in the metro area — including Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Boulder, Broomfield and Jefferson counties — accessed services or housing supports related to homelessness between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020. 

The annual Point in Time survey, which is conducted by MDHI in January to provide a snapshot of the issue, counted 6,104 people experiencing homelessness on a single night, a significant undercount compared with new data.

“For the first time, we have real-time data on how many people are seeking support as a result of homelessness,” Matt Meyer, executive director of MDHI, said in a statement.

The State of Homelessness 2020 report is the first of its kind in Colorado, according to MDHI, and pulls from the Homeless Management Information System, a data system shared by homeless service and housing providers around the metro area.  

Not unlike the Point in Time survey but to a greater extent, the latest report shows a “gross overrepresentation” of Black and Native American individuals. Black residents in the region make up just 5.3% of its population, but represent 26.4% of people experiencing homelessness, according to the HMIS count. American Indian/Alaskan Natives account for just 0.8% of the region's population, but make up 4.8% of the area’s unhoused residents. 

“While there are variances between data sets, one thing is consistent — racial inequity,” Meyer said. “We need to address this if we want to make meaningful progress on homelessness.”  

Data showed that most unhoused residents in the region are male and often encounter higher rates of "barriers related to physical or mental disabilities, chronic health conditions, and/or substance use than other subpopulations." The report also found that nearly 13,000 students identified as homeless during the 2018-2019 school year, which was the most recent data available. 

“This report seeks to provide a fuller, more comprehensive understanding of homelessness,” said Jamie Rife, MDHI’s director of communications and development. “In the past, we’ve focused on the Point in Time to determine the number of unhoused in our community, but now we have multiple data points to help us better understand the full impact of this issue.”

The leading cause of homelessness, in the Denver region and across the country, is a lack of affordable housing, the report states. 

“This, coupled with other systemic causes such as racial inequities, [stagnant] wages, and affordable healthcare to name a few, create economic conditions in which many among us are unable to secure and maintain stable housing,” the report reads. “The economic impacts of COVID-19 on our local, state and national economies will only worsen this shortage as thousands of our neighbors will struggle with their mortgages and rent, many for the first time. At its core, there is only one way to truly impact homelessness — housing.”

In light of the report, the advocacy nonprofit Denver Homeless Out Loud is organizing a Race and Homelessness Vigil in front of the Denver City Council Building for 5,256 minutes from 7 a.m. Wednesday until 10 p.m. Oct. 17. 

“There were 1,752 BIPOC people counted homeless in Denver in January 2020,” an organizer wrote in the event description on Facebook. “This is a known undercount. To honor everyone, not just those counted, we are tripling this number to have one minute for all those counted and one minute for all those not counted.”

“Every minute that we stay in front of City Hall is a minute to stand for every single BIPOC who is homeless in our city. We stand for housing, not police, NOW.”

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