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Seventeen teams of city workers and employees from local nonprofits in the Denver metro area visited highway overpasses, alleys, public parks, transit terminals, parking lots, and other locations to count houseless individuals in late January 2022. The “point-in-time” count can help inform human service organizations and government programs of origins of local homelessness and how to better serve affected individuals. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The number of people experiencing homelessness was up 12.8% in 2022 compared to 2020, before the pandemic, according to preliminary data from the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative point-in-time survey.

The annual count, which captures homelessness in the seven-county metro Denver region, showed there was an increase in homelessness of 784 people.

In January 2020, the last time a comprehensive count was conducted, there were 6,104 people counted who were homeless in metro Denver. This year, 6,888 people were counted, according to the first phase of data.

“We are awaiting HUD’s verification of the region’s demographic data before releasing further information, but for planning purposes, it is important to share the overall sheltered and unsheltered count for the region,” Jamie Rife, executive director of the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, said in a statement. 

MDHI will release a second phase of data once the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s verification process is completed later this summer, she said.

On Jan. 24, teams spread out across the region to count people living in shelters and outdoors. Leaders in the metro area did not conduct a count of people living outside in 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns.

The number of people living in shelters remained fairly consistent between 2020 and 2022, at 4,534 in 2020 and 4,815 in 2022, a 6% increase.

The number of people considered “unsheltered” also increased regionally. This year 2,073 people were sleeping outdoors, up from 1,561 in 2020, a 32.8% increase.

“The Point-in-Time is a snapshot of homelessness on a single night with numerous variables such as weather, count participation, volunteer engagement and a variety of other factors,” Rife said. “While this count can help us understand homelessness on a single night, getting to a place where we have comprehensive, real-time data regionally is the ultimate goal.”

Brandt Van Sickle, homelessness liaison for the City of Aurora, looks for unsheltered and houseless individuals on the morning of Jan. 25, 2022. Annual “point-in-time” observations and surveys, usually taking place in late January, are conducted early in the morning to avoid over counting the population. 2022’s count is seen as “critical” in determining the scope of homelessness after surveys were partially suspended last year due to COVID-19. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The metro Denver region has made significant strides in decreasing its reliance on the one-night count, Rife said in a public statement. Instead, human service providers and municipal leaders are working to improve participation with the region’s Homeless Management Information System to make daily homelessness data more accessible.

Outreach teams across the seven-county metro Denver area increasingly used the information system in 2022 to gain a more accurate real-time understanding of those living outdoors. The system also helped outreach teams better connect clients to human services and housing, Rife said.

While teams across the metro Denver area were able to locate and count 6,888 people on that single night this year in late January, the information system allowed them to estimate that the number of unhoused people is close to 31,000 throughout the course of the year, Rife said.

“This data highlights the dynamic nature of homelessness and the importance of real-time data to allow the region to coordinate effectively and allocate resources efficiently,” she said.

Tatiana Flowers is the equity and general assignment reporter for the Colorado Sun. She has covered crime and courts plus education and health in Colorado, Connecticut, Israel and Morocco. In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, intense exercise,...