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A tent at the corner of East 14th Avenue and Washington Street in Denver. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

The number of deaths among Denver’s homeless population so far in 2023 has spiked more than 50% compared with the number recorded at this time last year. 

If the upward trend continues, deaths among people who are unhoused could reach an all-time high, with accidental overdoses continuing to drive the surge, according to data from Denver’s Office of the Medical Examiner. 

So far in 2023, 166 people who were homeless have died, marking a 53% increase from 108 at this time last year, data show, and a 69% uptick from this time in 2021, when there were 98. This year’s data is preliminary, but unlikely to significantly change.

The deaths mirror an overall increase of people living on the city’s streets in the past year. 

The homeless population in the Denver metro area grew 31.7% in one year and the number of people who became homeless for the first time saw a 51.7% increase, according to data released last month from an annual count led by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative

Since June 1, 43 people who were homeless have died in Denver, including 18 people who died on the streets, data show. In June alone, 31 deaths of homeless people were recorded, Ethan Jamison, an epidemiologist with the Office of the Medical Examiner said. 

“It’s not the highest we’ve ever seen, but it continued this upward trend that we’ve seen starting since, essentially December of last year, where we’re seeing record-high numbers of deaths among people experiencing homelessness every month, except for March and May,” Jamison said. 

Similar to years past, accidental overdoses are driving the increase. 

“We see the homeless population increasing, unfortunately, and so I think we’re just seeing similarly that increasing in our death data, coupled with the tightening grip of fentanyl in our communities that use substances,” he said. 

“I think it’s kind of just these chronic issues that continue to grow.”

Amid the uptick, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston declared a state of emergency to address homelessness last month and announced that he plans to house 1,000 unsheltered people by the end of the year.


“With people suffering and dying on the streets every week, homelessness in Denver is a crisis,” the mayor’s office said in a written statement last week.

The uptick in deaths since June, the statement said, “underscores the urgency of the situation.” 

The number of people who die while they are homeless in the Denver metro area has gone up each year for the past seven years, said Cathy Alderman, a public policy officer for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. 

Recording the number of people who have died on the streets, rather than inside a hospital or a medical facility, speaks to the isolation that homelessness can cause.

“You don’t even feel comfortable enough to tell somebody that you’re not feeling well or that you’re having a hard time with a health care condition or you’ve been criminally attacked or something like that,” Alderman said. 

More supportive and adequate services to connect people with housing is needed to reverse the “alarming” trend, she said.

“​​Housing is critical — lifesaving for everybody — it’s like the opportunity to thrive. But it literally means life and death for some people.”

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer based in Colorado Springs for The Colorado Sun, covering breaking news, wildfires and all things interesting impacting Coloradans. Before joining The Sun, Olivia covered criminal justice for The Colorado Springs Gazette. She’s also worked at newspapers in New Orleans and New Jersey, where she grew up. After graduating college, she lived in a tiny, rural town in southern Madagascar for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer. When not writing, Olivia enjoys backpacking and climbing Colorado’s tallest peaks.