121720-dg-second-camp3

Denver's second sanctioned homeless camp became the temporary home to 39 residents on Dec. 15, 2020.

Spending on shelters, services, emergency response and healthcare for people experiencing homelessness in the Denver metropolitan region is close to half a billion dollars annually, a new report estimates.

The Common Sense Institute, a pro-business policy organization, examined nonprofits' tax filings, financial data from charitable organizations and municipal expenditures to estimate that $481.2 million is spent on homelessness assistance programs, much of it within the city of Denver. The estimate, however, does not include all organizations or government spending, nor does it cover all medical providers.

"As the number of people experiencing homelessness continues to rise and as communities recover from COVID-19, now is a critical time to assess the ecosystem," the report noted. "The complexity of entities, funding streams and resources makes understanding the various and interconnected systems difficult. The data presented in this report provide a launching point for further inquiry."

Recently, both national and local policymakers have raised the issue of homelessness prevention amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After progressive Democratic members of Congress called on the Biden administration to extend a moratorium on evictions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did so on Tuesday for communities with substantial or high levels of coronavirus transmission.

Also this week, the Denver Department of Housing Stability has requested feedback from the public on a five-year homelessness plan that includes the creation or preservation of 7,000 homes, as well as targets to reduce the duration of homelessness. 

“We are going to continue to deploy every tool available, with a goal of lifting thousands of people out of homelessness over the next two years,” Mayor Michael Hancock said during his State of the City address, naming homelessness his top priority for the rest of his final term in office.

Based on annual counts of those experiencing homelessness, the Common Sense Institute estimated the population across the metropolitan region was 6,104 as of January 2020, with the majority living in Denver. Up to 7,000 employees and 85,000 volunteers serve organizations or entities that provide some degree of services or housing to the homeless community.

"[T]he size of Denver relative to the size of other cities and counties means the city receives a greater share of federal funding, which in turn supports some of these expenditures," the report explained.

The Denver police and fire departments reported spending $1.7 million annually on homelessness, while Denver Health reported nearly $176 million. Additionally, pair of local initiatives that Denver voters passed in 2018 and 2020 increased taxes by up to $76 million annually to fund mental health, housing and shelter services.

Assisting with the report were the University of Colorado's Inworks program and the Homeless Leadership Council. (Support also came from the Anschutz Foundation. The Anschutz Corporation owns Clarity Media, which is the owner of Colorado Politics.)