In recent years, Colorado’s three largest cities—Denver, Colorado Springs, and Aurora—have been grappling with a growing homelessness crisis. This issue has increasingly demanded fiscal resources and political attention, prompting each city to develop its own unique strategy to address the challenge.
Denver’s Urgent Measures
Denver, the capital city, has taken emergency action to combat homelessness. The city declared a state of emergency, allowing it to bypass public bidding procedures to swiftly procure homeless shelters. The goal is ambitious: to house 1,000 people by the end of the year. As part of this effort, Denver has cleared three homeless encampments, including one near the Governor’s Mansion.
As of January, Denver recorded 5,818 homeless individuals, marking an increase of 1,024 compared to the previous year. Of these, 2,763 were “unsheltered,” living in public spaces like cars, tents, or on the streets—an increase of 33% from 2022.
To address this crisis, Denver has committed significant financial resources. Over the next two years, the city plans to allocate half a billion dollars, with $254 million earmarked for this year and $242 million for the next. Based on the latest homeless count, this translates to roughly $85,000 per homeless person over two years—a stark contrast to the $8 million spent in 2011 when the issue was less severe.
Colorado Springs’ Successful Strategy
Colorado Springs has adopted a strategy that emphasizes strict enforcement of a camping ban among homeless individuals. This approach appears to be working, as the city and El Paso County have seen a 17% decline in homelessness from 2019 to January 2023, with the homeless population dropping from 1,562 to 1,302.
The point-in-time surveys conducted in the county show progress across all categories and age groups, from people living on the streets to those in transitional housing. Colorado Springs allocated approximately $6.2 million to homelessness this year, excluding costs related to enforcing the urban camping ban and other related laws. This translates to nearly $5,000 per homeless person for one year.
Mayor Yemi Mobolade, an independent, believes his city is “doing really well” and moving in the right direction regarding homelessness.
Aurora’s “Work-First” Approach
In Aurora, Mayor Mike Coffman champions a “work-first” strategy, aligning more closely with Colorado Springs’ approach. Coffman expresses disagreement with the “housing-first” models favored in Denver, as he believes success should be measured not just by housing individuals but also by their employment and self-sufficiency.
Aurora’s homeless population, which stood at 612 in 2022, has seen a modest decline to 572 in January. The city invested around $5.6 million in addressing homelessness last year, amounting to approximately $10,000 per homeless person.
Opinions vary on which city’s approach is most effective in addressing homelessness. This series aims to delve deeper into the unique complexities and similarities of each city’s homeless challenge. Part 1 has provided an overview of Denver’s urgent measures to tackle the issue.
The homelessness crisis in Colorado remains a pressing concern, and the strategies employed by these cities continue to evolve as they seek meaningful solutions to this complex issue.