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Beth Robinson, in blue, and her family attend a vigil to remember people who died in 2022 while they were homeless, on Dec. 21 in Denver, as temperatures plunged to five degrees Fahrenheit before the longest night of the year. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has hosted the event for 33 years. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

It’s been a deadly week for people who are homeless in Colorado, in keeping with a yearlong trend of rising deaths among those living outdoors. 

One person who was homeless in Denver likely froze to death during last week’s sub-zero temperatures, and two others were killed in violent attacks, according to investigators. Four others died during the arctic temperatures in Colorado Springs, officials said.

The Denver medical examiner is trying to determine the exact cause of the death reported in the city Thursday, when the temperature dipped to minus 24 at Denver International Airport, but said the death was related to “environmental exposure.”

The two previous nights, Dec. 20 and Dec. 21, two men who were homeless were killed in what police say were separate but connected attacks. Their bodies were found outside near Interstate 70 and Washington Street, according to Denver police. A third man who was living outside was arrested on two counts of first-degree murder. 

Michael Thompson, 32, and Gregory Dupree, 56, both died of “blunt and sharp force” injuries, according to the Denver medical examiner. Andrew Mutch, 34, was arrested in the homicides, but no further details were released because authorities, for no specified reason, sealed the arrest affidavit in the case. 

The men’s bodies were found near the Denver Coliseum, which opened Dec. 21 as an emergency warming center for 225 people. But the deaths occurred in the two nights before the warming center opened and buses began transporting people who needed shelter from downtown Denver to the north side of the city. The warming center closed on Saturday.

People gather during a vigil to remember those who have died in 2022 while they were homeless, on Dec. 21. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The three deaths came during the same week that the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless held its annual vigil to remember those who died in the previous year. The count for the seven-county Denver metro area this year was 263, up five deaths from 2021, but organizers noted that information on homeless deaths is incomplete. 

The Denver Police Department does not track the deaths of homeless people, and while the Denver medical examiner’s office keeps track, the records are incomplete, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, which keeps its own count. Causes of death were not available because of incomplete records, the coalition said.

Homeless deaths were on the rise in other cities, too. 

Last week as temperatures plummeted below zero, four people in Colorado Springs died while homeless, police said. A 42-year-old man was found on the ground near the Citadel Mall on the city’s east side last Thursday afternoon. Snow had accumulated on his belongings, leading detectives to believe he had been there for some time. 

Around the same time, police found a 40-year-old man in a homeless camp about a mile from the mall. He was taken to the hospital where he later died. The following day, police found a 69-year-old woman dead at a Park and Ride south of downtown and a 23-year-old woman dead in a parking lot in northeast Colorado Springs, police spokesman Robert Tornabene said.  

A tent is set up beside an RTD light rail station in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

In El Paso County, 102 people died while homeless in 2022, according to data through Dec. 12 from the county coroner’s office. At least four deaths were ruled as a homicide and the manner of death is still pending for 21 others. The number is a sharp increase from 2021 when the office recorded 78 homeless deaths.

Among those killed was 49-year-old Jose Delgado-Diaz who was stabbed in his chest Oct. 10 and found behind a business near what authorities described as a homeless camp.

Delgado-Diaz reportedly matched the description of a man seen setting fire to the camp, where firefighters found several RVs and other cars engulfed in flames about 2 a.m., only hours before authorities found him with a stab wound, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. Deputies tried to save him, but he died at the scene.

Deputies arrested Gabriel Lee Clark, 20, and Gregory Paul Lee, 64, in his death. 

Detectives found another man’s body with “obvious trauma and external injuries” at a homeless camp about 3 a.m. Nov. 7. The coroner’s office is still working to determine how Ricky Keiser died, but police are investigating his death as a homicide. 

In Pueblo, police said four people who were homeless were found dead outside this year near highways and alleys. Two others were found in a field and in a wooded area. That compares with one person who was homeless and died outside in 2021, according to police records. 

In Mesa County, 13 people died when they were homeless this year, according to the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless, the only agency that tracks such deaths in the area. Last year, 25 deaths were reported to the organization and nine in 2020. 

The opioid crisis, fueled the past few years by counterfeit fentanyl, has contributed to the increase in deaths of people who are homeless. In Denver, 40 of the 370 overdose deaths this year occurred outdoors, according to data from the medical examiner’s office.

The increase in deaths among the homeless this year precedes an influx of thousands more people who are homeless coming to Colorado, stretching resources thin at Denver area shelters. 

Nearly 2,400 migrants have arrived in the city since Dec. 9, with more than 1,300 staying at emergency shelters set up by the city and nonprofit organizations. Denver officials threw together a reception center and two shelters at recreation centers to house the migrants, many of whom are from Central and South America and arrived on buses over the past two and a half weeks. 

The three most recent busloads, carrying more than 400 people, arrived in the city on Christmas, Monday and Tuesday. The migrants are apparently seeking asylum in the United States after crossing at the southern border, then boarding buses to Colorado. Denver is a so-called sanctuary city, meaning local authorities do not cooperate with federal immigration officials seeking to deport people living here without proper documentation. 

Busloads of migrants have been arriving in cities across the nation in recent months, including several busloads dropped off in front of Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in Washington, D.C., on Christmas Eve. The White House blamed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who in the past has said he sent migrants coming across the Mexico-Texas border to other cities in protest of President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

This image provided by WJLA shows migrant families as they get on a bus near Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 24, 2022. (WJLA via AP)

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has said city officials have not determined whether the migrants arriving in Colorado were sent by officials in any other state or whether they organized the trips on their own. 

Denver officials are seeking volunteers, part-time workers and donations of food, clothing and money to help care for the migrants. Applications and a list of needed items can be found on the city’s website.

Jennifer Brown

Jen is a co-founder and reporter at The Sun, where she writes about mental health, child welfare and social justice issues. Her first journalism job was at The Hungry Horse News in her home state of...

Olivia Prentzel

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer for The Colorado Sun. Email: oliviaprentzel@coloradosun.com