Front Range homeless advocates will follow Jefferson and Adams County’s lead later this month, hosting special events to get a more accurate picture of Colorado’s homelessness problem. “I think …
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Front Range homeless advocates will follow Jefferson and Adams County’s lead later this month, hosting special events to get a more accurate picture of Colorado’s homelessness problem.
“I think we showed last year that this is a good way to get a better picture about the scope of the problem,” said Kate Skarbek, special projects analyst for Westminster’s Parks, Recreation and Library department. “That’s why we’re seeing it duplicated
Skarbek said Adams County will host five events designed to draw in homeless individuals for the annual survey, offering free food, gear, showers and visits with medical professionals and barbers.
“We’re going to do what we did last year, but more,” Skarbek said. “We want to increase the number of services offered at each site. We’ll have food at every event, we’re looking at having veterinarians to do pet checks and ramping up medical services at a few sites a little bit more.”
They won’t be alone. Denver is hosting an event Jan. 28 and Arapahoe County is hosting an event in Englewood Jan. 29.
“I think it’s evidence that local governments are now all talking about homeless and realizing that it’s a regional issue and that we need to have policy changes made across entire counties — at a minimum,” she said. “It takes some time to have those discussions and get the various elected officials on the same page.”
Cities across the country are required to take the survey each year on the last two days of January to qualify for federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“If we don’t have an accurate count, it really jeopardizes funding for the whole reason,” she said. “So we want to do what we can that we are getting the most accurate picture we possibly can.”
Homeless advocates across the Front Range fanned out for two days each year to count the homeless as part of the annual Everyone Counts Point-in-time survey for the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.
Along the Front Range, the effort is spearheaded by Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. That group organizes events and trains volunteers to perform the surveys. Initiative volunteers spread out across the Denver area to find homeless individuals, count them and ask them to take part in the survey.
Advocates began offering magnet sites, four in Jefferson County and three in Adams County, in 2018 to get a more accurate count. Those events featured food, services and counseling for homeless individuals.
Homeless numbers spike
The 2018 survey reported 466 homeless individuals in Adams County based on the point-in-time survey, compared to 157 in 2017.
Meanwhile, Jefferson County saw the total homeless count increase from 394 in 2017 to 577 in 2018.
Regionally the census found 5,116 homeless in the metro Denver area in 2017 compared to 5,317 in 2018.
Skarbek said Jeffco and Adams’ big increases likely came from getting a more accurate count last year, thanks to the magnet sites.
“It’s not that it’s worse, it’s that the data is being captured and encapsulated a little better than it has in the past,” Skarbek said. “Hopefully, we can continue this, getting better data year to year. And eventually, we hope we can get data that shows a decrease that we can all believe.”
According to the 2018 results, 256 of Adams County’s reported homeless were in some sort of shelter or transitional housing and 120 were households with at least one child younger than 18 years old. Of the 210 reported to living on the streets, under bridges, in a camp or in a car, 29 included households with at least one child.
Adams County hosted three magnet events in 2018 designed to bring homeless people in by offering food and services in addition to the survey and Skarbek said it could be reason Adams County got higher numbers.
“It was a much more pleasant experience than trying to get out in the dark and visit other encampments,” Skarbek said. “Our street outreach continued, but we’ve found that street outreach is spotty. You have to find at essentially at home and willing to participate in the survey without incentives.”
More magnets in 2019
This year’s count runs from sundown Jan. 28 to sundown Jan. 29.
Adams County will host five magnet events in Westminster, Northglenn, Thornton, Brighton and Aurora. Jefferson County is hosting five events as well over the two day period.
Once again, local volunteers have collected a roomful of goods — everything from warm socks to winter coats and sleeping bags to dog food. What doesn’t get used for the earlier events gets distributed among the later events.
Homeless guests will be invited to use the facilities’ showers, get a checkup with nurses, a haircut and a hot, catered meal before they are asked to participate in the survey. They are not required to take the survey, she said.
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