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Housing

“We used to never have anything like this”: In Douglas County, signs of homelessness are on the rise

This is in a county with the highest median household income in metro Denver and the lowest percentage of people in poverty. It's also a county where housing costs are rising sharply.

Officer Ricky Stegmaier with the Lone Tree Police Department shines his flashlight over an urban encampment used by people experiencing homelessness. Items left behind at the site -- located behind a trash compactor at a local store -- included cooking supplies and tent components. (Elliott Wenzler, Colorado Community Media)

This story first appeared in a Colorado Community Media newspaper. The Colorado Sun is an owner of CCM.

Often, Dan Makelky, the human resources director for Douglas County, looks out his office window in Castle Rock and sees someone get released from the nearby county jail and wander down the road with nowhere to go. 

Central Castle Rock is outside the Regional Transportation District. Without public transportation connecting the town to other areas, some newly-released people can’t afford a taxi and don’t have anyone to call for a ride.

“I wonder where they go, honestly, that’s the first thing,” Makelky said. “Or where they’re heading to.”

Makelky and others, like county Sheriff Tony Spurlock, say this is just one of many factors that may contribute to what appears to be a growing number of people experiencing homelessness in the county.

“What happens is, they have no place to go, so they just try to find a place to stay,” Spurlock told Colorado Community Media.

Multiple law enforcement agencies, nonprofits and local governments across the county say they are seeing a surge in the number of unhoused people in the area. Reports from these agencies include new urban encampments, higher demands for services and — though it doesn’t always indicate homelessness — more panhandling.

Castle Rock and Lone Tree are two of the main areas seeing these increases, local leaders say. But the reports have spanned the entire county, Makelky said.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

This year, the county formed a Homeless Initiative to research how many unhoused people are here and how they came to be in their situation — and to formulate a plan to address it.

Some in the county say the time is coming for additional local services to help people find shelter or food. Others say that will only invite more transient populations. Still others are considering sweeping camping bans and other regulations for these groups.

In work sessions in October and December, Douglas County’s elected commissioners directed staff to begin considerations for a countywide camping-permit requirement and have said they’re not interested in creating homeless shelters for the community.

Camping bans already exist in Parker and Lone Tree and at least one councilmember in Castle Pines — Roger Hudson — has said he wants to see one implemented there. Castle Rock’s town council also voted Nov. 16 to begin discussions on addressing local homelessness. 

Read the rest of the story at Colorado Community Media.