5,116. This is the number of homeless people surveyed by the Metropolitan Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI) on January 30, 2017. Reports show that Denver homelessness has experienced a 6 percent increase, in 2016, and a 24.3 percent veteran homelessness increase (St. George, 2016). The city and county of Denver needs to initiate a complete community-wide approach to significantly drop the percentage of chronic homeless people within the Denver Metropolitan area. By working with the community and stakeholders, we can provide and sustain immediate opportunities for the homeless community with constant follow up with our supporting agencies as well as participants to promote recovery and wellbeing of those in danger of becoming homeless. We have come up with four major ideas, or principles, to help us work towards our goal of reducing or ending homelessness; respect, accountability, sustainability, and cooperation. Respect covenants with the personal rights of the homeless community and that is should be respected. Accountability holds all residents, homeless or not, accountable for their actions to preserve public health for the entire community of the Denver Metropolitan area. Sustainability is the method for both short-term needs for the homeless community in regards to food and shelter and long-term goals to help prevent homeless from happening to those already experiencing and those who may be victim to homeless. Lastly, cooperation is needed from all aspects of the community. Our approach requires the cooperation from partners, the homeless community, and neighboring residents.
Symptoms of the Homeless Community
Believe it or not, the majority of homeless people aren’t homeless because of drugs or alcohol addiction, it’s of completely different factors that are right in front of our eyes. Denver’s market is skyrocketing and if this trend continues, there could also be a rise in homelessness. The Denver-Aurora metro area has seen a 26% increase in home prices over the last two years, one of the highest in the country (Kelly, 2016). There are places in downtown Denver that are easily selling for over $500,000 and along the sidewalks are people sleeping on the streets. Some warehouses around the Denver Metropolitan area that were used for shelters are now being used to grow marijuana or are being bought for the creation of startup companies, shopping centers, and condos. Many of these people don’t make enough money or, they need to work almost 60+ hours a week to afford rent alone. People are losing their homes because their landlord are raising rent.
With the increase of the market, this also leaves the availability of affordable housing units scarce. Where rent costs are increasing, jobs and minimum wage pay the same. The traffic in Denver continues to grow as well. There is the option of using the transit system in Denver, but that also cost monthly to get to work should you work downtown.
A symptom, not a cause, of homelessness is the abuse of drugs and alcohol of the community. Most of the community go to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain of health issues that they experience. Drugs and alcohol provide help to these people who have no other means or no other options of receiving help. In many cases, homeless people prefer to sleep on the street rather than in shelters due to contagious health issues within the community. Overcrowding and anxiety about personal belongings and potential exposure to various illnesses such as skin disorders keep people away from shelters (The Denver Channel Team, 2016).
Diagnosing the Homeless Problem
A key component to Denver homeless and a health issue they are all facing is mental health issues. Two-thirds of them, the chronically homeless of Denver, have this in common: mental illness. Just one-third of those with mental illnesses are receiving treatment, based on nation estimates (Denver Post, 2014). This can be caused by many factors that causes someone to become homeless, the loss of a job, and family breakups. A majority of homeless people that were interviewed all stated that they in fact did have a mental health issue that can’t be treated because they can’t afford it. If the homeless cannot afford to eat, how could they afford health care or afford any sort of service to better their health? One health issue that can be very common is frostbite. The homeless community in Denver have to deal with extreme winters. If they do not have the necessary clothing to protect their skin or to keep their bodies warm, this can be a common health issue. Many of these people could have arthritis and if untreated could lead to gout. Little bumps have been developing all over [Matthew’s] body. Inside the eruption are “little, hard crystals.” (McGhee, 2014). While drugs and alcohol aren’t a factor as to why people become homeless, it is, however, a cause of why people continue to be homeless. Spending money on alcohol or drugs causes people to not be able to afford monthly rent therefore, losing their homes.
Curing the Homeless Issue
One solution towards health care is to keep doing what they are currently doing with mobile health cart care. Every weekend or maybe every other weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday, bring around mobile cards to homeless shelters to offer free care for the homeless. Considering how large the homeless community is, every week could be the best option simply because you cannot get through 5,000 people in one weekend. Doing this can greatly influence the public health by making the people who spend a majority of their time on the street in the face of the public healthier or to cure / prevent disease that can be airborne or through accidental contact. As we walk through downtown, we do not know what person has what disease and has touched what building. Time and time, we can see people touching buildings, door handles, or other public areas and then touching their faces directly without worrying about potential threats to health.
Another strategy is to provide temporary housing to those when shelters are overcrowded. This housing strategy can be offered first to those who have some sort of income to allow them to save their earnings to get them back on their feet. This can also be down through the creation of housing vouchers, which can actually be less expensive than the creation of more emergency shelters. The average monthly cost of serving a family in an emergency shelter is $4,819. Providing these families with a voucher for housing, on the other hand, is just $1,162 (Semuels, 2016). There is a lot that can be created by saving $3,657 monthly. Looking at Utah, they were able to decrease chronic homelessness by 91 percent. The idea of Housing First is that housing comes first, services later. Clients do have to pay some rent – either 30% of income or up to $50 a month (McEvers, 2015). $50 a month can save a lot of money for a lot of families that have recently become homeless because of rental rates increasing. If you think about it, if we take 91% of our homeless away from Denver, that leaves 461 people homeless. This is a massive solution to curing homelessness.
Prevention of Homeless
A quick and simple fix that can be looked into is to identify key areas within the city to potentially reduce camping, leaving the homeless population out of trouble. This could be something as simple as trimming trees or opening known sites for camping that can increase visibility. Additionally, this can create a movement to design open spaces for landscaping projects or fencing in certain areas. One great example of this already being accomplished is the idea of pop-up-parks. One of the first created was established in a known spot for homeless activity. The space is a city initiative to see if the block will work better as a green space. Dozens of trees, a dog park, stages, a bike lane, a stone patio, and a large mural will add to the park experience this summer (Kesting, 2017).
We should be getting homeless people off of the streets. “Housing first, services later” One key element we can undertake right now is the creation of affordable housing. Within Denver, it is estimated that 52,000 households need affordable housing units in the city and the current plan is to find 400 units, which is 1.9 percent of the need (Staver, 2017). This number is not good enough and should never be good enough. We need to shelter 52,000 families where we can only plan 400 units. There are buildings all around Denver that can be turned into housing units. As stated above for curing the homeless, we can look towards Utah as well as Texas and what they did with tiny house communities for the homeless. A California artist, Gregory Kloehn, is building small portable homes using materials that he finds on the street. He spends less than $100 on each unit. An inexpensive structure like a micro-pod – with insulation, a small bed and a place to store belongings – is a good, temporary solution to keep a person warm, safe and out of jail (Federico-O’Murchu, 2014). Also Utah’s Housing First program, which gives free, permanent “no strings attached” apartments to the chronically homeless, claims to be on track to eradicate the problem (Federico-O’Murchu, 2014). Housing first, services later.
Denver Post. (2014). For Colorado homeless with mental illnesses, housing is health care.
Federico-O’Murchu, L. (2014). Tiny Houses: A Big Idea to End Homelessness. Retrieved
Kelley, D. (2016.). As Denver enjoy boom times, the homeless go into hiding. Retrieved
Kesting, A. (2017.). Denver’s new pop up park opens Thursday. Retrieved from
McEvers, K. (2015.). Utah Reduced Chronic Homelessness By 91 Percent; Here’s How.
Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2015/12/10/459100751/utah-reduced-chronic-homelessness-by-91-percent-heres-how
Mcghee, T. (2014). Homeless Coalition provides health care on the streets of Denver.
Retrieved from http://www.denverpost.com/2014/11/27/homeless-coalition-
Semuels, A. (2016.). How Can the U.S. End Homelessness? Retrieved from
Staver, A. (2017). Denver taking a small step to address housing crisis. Retrieved from
St. George, J. (2016). Report shows scale of Colorado’s homeless increase. Retrieved from
The Denver Channel Team. (2016.). Homeless in Denver: Many choose streets over shelter.
Retrieved from http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/homeless-in-denver-behind-the-sign-many-choose-streets-over-shelter