Meeting the Needs of the Most Vulnerable
Emergency housing becomes a temporary solution during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to protect the homeless population.
Societal disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially difficult for people who are unsheltered, a growing population in the Denver metro area.
The danger of infection just adds to the list of worries that homeless people live with every day. They’re already often unsure about whether they’ll find a bed or food on a regular basis. And safety is always a concern.
Experts are warning about the potential for significant increases in the numbers of people who will become homeless as a result of the economic contraction wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the last few years, Colorado has seen an increasing number of people experiencing homelessness in the Denver Metro Area, a seven-county metropolitan that includes Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson. This year, the homeless population increased 6 percent to 6,104, as compared to 5,755 in 2019, according to the 2020 Point in Time homeless count.
Similarly, in the 2019, there was an 8 percent increase from the 2018 homeless population in the Denver Metro Area. Although there was an increase in homelessness there was a decrease of people that were considered chronically homeless, experienced homelessness for at least a year and has a disability.
The same pattern follows for El Paso County which saw an increase in the homeless population but a decrease in those considered chronically homeless from 2018 to 2019.
Emergency housing has become an important consideration during the pandemic in an effort to protect against the spread of the virus. In Denver, there has been controversy and concern over homeless camps that have appeared in urban locations where they hadn’t been previously, according to an article in the Colorado Sun.
Among the concerns is the highly infectious nature of COVID-19 when people are in close proximity, particularly if they are not wearing face coverings. The reality is that many people experiencing homelessness have underlying medical conditions that make them even more vulnerable to having complications from the virus. Without shelter that allows people to be safe distances from one another, it can be difficult for homeless people to protect themselves from the virus.
Before the pandemic, 48 percent of the homeless population in the Denver Metro Area was housed in emergency shelters according to the 2020 PIT count. They filled 2,911 of the 3,561 beds available. Even though there were more beds available on the night in January when the survey was conducted, homeless advocates say there are many reasons why some may choose not to stay in the shelter, including safety.
During the pandemic, the high demand for emergency housing and safety prompted Denver to provide another solution. The city opened shelters at The National Western Complex, which has since been closed, and the Denver Coliseum. State and local organizations continue to work together to protect the community and find long-term solutions in the city.
In November, Denver voters will be asked whether they want to impose a 0.25 percent sales tax in the city to pay for services for people experiencing homelessness.