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On a Wednesday morning in September, thousands of homeless individuals crowd inside the Colorado Convention Center, surrounded by hundreds of volunteers in bright T-shirts. Denver's Road Home and several other partners are coordinating the event, which is called Project Homeless Connect and is designed to provide one-stop shopping for a wide range of services.

This is the twelfth time the city has run the event, and it has the largest turnout ever, with more than 1,800 people seeking services.

Different providers are offering information and services on everything from health exams to job support to legal assistance to child care; volunteers are on site to help individuals learn about shelter and housing options, benefits assistance, veterans' services, health insurance, substance-abuse treatment and more. Women with children are waiting in line to see if they can secure vouchers. One man recently released from jail says he can't get a job anywhere, which makes it impossible for him to pay for housing, so he's waiting for help, too. While they wait, some of the homeless get free haircuts.

The array of services and the sometimes chaotic nature of the event indicate just how complicated the problem of homelessness is for the city — and how great the needs are.

A January policy brief issued by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless showed how women, more so than their male counterparts, struggle with poverty, wage inequality and a lack of affordable housing — all of which contribute to the growing number of women considered homeless. The 2011 Point-in-Time study noted that the number of homeless women was approaching that of homeless men, with growth in homeless single parents and couples with children, along with a jump in the number of single homeless females. In the 2007 survey, there were 787 homeless women counted in Denver — which accounted for just 28.7 percent of the homeless population. The latest count determined that more than 1,000 women were homeless in Denver.

One added pressure for Denver is the number of women from across the region seeking services here, which strains the city's resources. In September, for example, 43 percent of the motel vouchers were given to out-of-county women and children. And an increasing number of the women are veterans. The number has doubled over the past decade; today, around 20 percent of the women served by the Delores Project are veterans.

The Empowerment Program, a Denver nonprofit that works with disadvantaged women and connects them to an array of services, broke ground this past Veterans Day on a project that will provide housing specifically for female vets. The development, called Odyssey Family Residences, will feature 36 one- and two-bedroom apartments in north Denver, along with other services to help homeless vets turn their lives around. Like the WHI, it's largely a community-based effort.

So what is the city itself doing to accommodate the growing number of homeless women?

In addition to the fifty overflow mats that Denver is now offering with help from Volunteers of America, Road Home has funded a range of efforts since it was started in 2005, with the mission of serving as a "ten-year plan to end homelessness." Road Home gives financial support to a wide array of several homeless programs that help women, including the Denver Street Outreach Collaborative, which links them to mental-health, housing, substance-abuse and case-management services. It also funds overflow beds at several existing facilities, as well as providing motel vouchers.

The city is currently working to open a permanent "rest and resource center," which would be a 24-hour space for homeless men, women and families that offers shelter, case-management, mental-health and substance-abuse services. Although the center has been discussed for months, it has yet to become a reality. And organizations geared toward helping homeless women say they're skeptical that it will make much of a difference, even though the Denver Department of Human Services, the parent agency of Road Home, has assigned $1 million to the center for 2013.

Road Home has a budget of $8,077,279 for 2012 — with an additional $100,000 dedicated to funding winter overflow beds and related transportation. Of the total budget, 28 percent goes to treatment and services; 19 percent to emergency shelter, motels and family services; 26 percent to housing and transitional housing; and 12 percent to outreach work. The rest goes to prevention services, employment support and administrative costs.

City officials say the controversial camping ban is a tool to connect the homeless with these kinds of services.

But service providers that focus on helping homeless women argue that the camping ordinance is especially harmful to their constituents, since women are more vulnerable on the street and are now forced to hide, sometimes alone, pushing them farther into the shadows, where they face greater risks.

On nights when they couldn't find shelter, women would stick together, says Christina Smith, who has been homeless on and off for six years. "We would sleep in groups that would protect women," she says. "But now you've gotta go hide, and more women are getting hurt...because of it."

Ashley Biekarck, a resource advocate with the Gathering Place, spends much of her time trying to help women secure beds. As an absolute last resort, she gives out bus passes so that they can ride at night — a common practice of service providers when it appears that there are no other viable options.

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3 comments
jwc4christ
jwc4christ

I am a homeless man. I have had to sleep outside before. When there are empty beds, mats, or, cots in a shelter it is because there are still people camping, not because we have solved the problem of homelessness.

Renaldo
Renaldo

Six days and no comments on the front page story? Is it a sign of how relevant and important the story is, or how irrelevant Westword has become? Both? I mean, it seems any semi-sentient being who simply reads the headline would immediately ask, "Is it really worse for homeless women than men, or is Westword once again fabricating an issue (sexual bias) where there is none?"

So you might think that somewhere in the first paragraph, or at least the first dozen paragraphs, there would be an explanation of the problem this article supposedly addresses, you know, the bias against homeless women. And, when you get to the very end of the introductory section, somewhere around paragraph 12, you will read "But homeless women say that the city hasn't done enough. Even with the lotteries, they charge, the odds are stacked against them. While beds assigned to men occasionally go empty, homeless women say that sometimes, sleeping on the streets seems like the only realistic option."

So "homeless women say" the odds are stacked against them, huh? Guess that's enough evidence to write a huge multi-page cover story, 'cause some unidentified homeless women said so...I tried to read the rest of the article, and while the author alluded to numbers here and there, it would appear the article and its title are intentionally misleading. Because, when you finally get to page 4, you can read how "While men's shelters have had vacancies — in the past, sometimes as many as fifty beds or mats went unused on a given night — women's shelters are almost always packed. In fact, since the camping ban went into effect, shelters for both men and women usually reach capacity." 

So let's get this straight; the men's and women's shelters have been full since "the camping ban" went into effect...last April? In other words, from the start of this winter both the men's and woman's shelters have been full to capacity, despite the story starting off with the claim that bed's in men's shelters go unused? OK, well there's still a problem with women being underrepresented, right? Which is why on page 5 you can read "In the 2007 survey, there were 787 homeless women counted in Denver — which accounted for just 28.7 percent of the homeless population. The latest count determined that more than 1,000 women were homeless in Denver."

I'm guessing that the number of men who are homeless has also increased significantly since the bottom fell out of the economy and that's why the author doesn't want to mention whether, as a percentage of the total homeless population, the number of women actually went up or down (yeah, who wants to mess with actual facts and present the full story when you're fabricating an issue). Nonetheless, if (unlike the author) you are capable of adding two and two you will see that for every homeless woman in Denver there are roughly two homeless men. And, as quoted in the paragraph above, both the men's and woman's shelters are full to capacity. So the article basically argues that, never mind there are two men on the street for every woman, homeless women are being discriminated against...or something like, well, there are these things at the convention center and there are so many homeless people and so many services and it's all so confusing, and women are coming here from out of state, and women have special issues vs. men...and if we throw all these half-truths and misinformation and "stuff" (including some partial numbers) together it's a cover story, right?

But I guess that's just what happens when you don't want to rock that stinky Denver boat, lest someone lose their invite to Hick's xmas parties - you make up stuff about discrimination against homeless women that really doesn't exist, as opposed to writing about our hypocritical self-serving politicians, slimy "business leaders", the criminal cops, the failing schools, the amazingly dysfunctional University, the increasing street crime, etc., etc. Yep, please write some more unintelligible articles about the demise of RockBar, now THAT'S important....

Merry Christmas, and thanks again for doing such a great job...

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

@Renaldo thanks for the message -- and yes, it's the first one posted after this story. Our news stories often do not get comments -- unlike anything on pit bulls or pot -- so we appreciate this. In fact, we'd like to publish it in our print edition, ideally with your full name. Please contact me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

 
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