Survey revels fewer homeless, but more families living on street
DENVER – A one-night survey of homelessness in metro Denver found that the number of people without a permanent place to live decreased about 11 percent from last year, but a larger percentage of the homeless were families with children.The survey was released Monday by the Metropolitan Denver Homeless Initiative and the Mile High United Way. It was taken at more than 150 agencies and locations in seven counties on Jan. 23.Those counted filled out a questionnaire, either at a place offering services for the homeless or after being identified by volunteers on the street.The survey had 5,424 respondents, who said they were accompanied by 3,667 family members. The 9,091 total was below the 10,268 counted in 2005 but above the 8,668 counted in 2004.Single parents made up 39 percent of respondents in this year’s survey, compared with 35 percent in 2005 and 36 percent in 2004. Households with children saw a bigger jump, 58 percent this year from 50 percent a year ago. More than 3,200 children and youth were counted.Respondents listed lost jobs as the top reason for being homeless, although about a third reported having a full-time, part-time or day-labor job.Linda Murphy, the homeless initiative’s executive director, said some of the decrease could be attributed to increased efforts to address the problem.This year’s count was the first since Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper began his 10-year plan to end homelessness in the city, called Denver’s Road Home. The project took effect in July.About half of the homeless counted in the survey were living in Denver.”We do believe that the emphasis that Denver is putting on their plan to address homeless, that’s impacted the numbers,” she said.The survey also contradicts some common beliefs about who the homeless are in the Denver area, she said.”We tend to stereotype homeless people as single males with alcohol or substance abuse issues,” she said. “We’re seeing the number of families go up, and that’s very disheartening.”Hickenlooper said the increase in families underlined the need for one of his plan’s major components, having the city’s religious congregations “adopt” a homeless family, paying for their first month’s rent and mentoring them as they try to become self-sufficient again.About 200 congregations have volunteered, he said.”I feel very confident that we’re going to address that aggressively,” Hickenlooper said.Though a useful marker, Murphy said the survey does have limitations. Counts can be affected by the number of volunteers available or the weather, and information about substance abuse or mental health can be skewed because participants are self reporting.”We know that there are 9,091 persons who were identified. We don’t really know how many weren’t identified,” she said. “We believe the number will always be an undercount.”
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