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Homelessness in Denver: Room for Improvement, Report Says

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A report on hunger and homelessness released last week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors revealed that while local services are still not meeting the full needs of this city's hungry and homeless populations, Denver is, on average, doing better than the many of the other cities studied in the survey.

See also: Denver Set Out to End Homelessness Ten Years Ago -- Is the Finish Line in Sight?

The report found that the 25 cities surveyed for this 32nd annual report had a combined 7 percent increase in requests for emergency food assistance. Most of these requests came from families, while almost half were from employed individuals -- which is a reflection of wages not meeting living standards, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said during a December 11 conference call about the report.

The 25 cities in the report are all members of the Conference of Mayors homeless and hunger task force, and include Denver, Philadelphia and Phoenix. On average, cities were not able to feed 21 percent of the hungry population; Denver reported that it could not meet the needs of about 15 percent of its hungry population. Many cities, including Denver, reported that unemployment, low wages and high housing costs were the reasons for families and individuals not being able to afford food.

The report listed programs that were working positively toward ending hunger. It included the Denver Department of Human Services' SNAP into Health initiative, which has "increased access to public assistance programs, health care, financial literacy, and nutrition in communities needing it the most."

Denver also reported that 61 percent of those requesting emergency food service were families, which also have the most need for shelter. City officials reported that emergency shelters had to turn away 11 percent of the homeless population between September 2012 and August 2013, the time period covered by the report. All of those turned away were families with children, according to Denver officials; the city was able to shelter all unaccompanied adults during this time.

Of the seventeen cities that were able to provide stats, 78 percent of the overall homeless population was sheltered; Denver exceeded that average by housing 89 percent of its homeless.

The shelter shortage was expected, said Tom Cochran, the conference's CEO and executive director, because while the country has seen improvements in the economy, the recovery has been slow and cities have not been able to meet the growing needs of the hungry and homeless. "There's no question that the nation's economy is on the mend," he explained. "But there's also no question that the slow pace of the recovery in past years has made it difficult -- and, for many of our cities, impossible -- to respond to the growing needs of hungry and homeless Americans."

Three Denver programs -- the city's 100 Veterans in 100 Days campaign, the city's ten-year plan to end homelessness and the Denver Housing Authority's collaborations with Denver Road Home -- were cited by the report as positive examples for housing the homeless.

While all cities reported that they expect the hungry population to increase, almost half also said they expect resources for food emergency assistant to dwindle. Already, 82 percent of the cities report having decreased the amount of food distributed per person or per meal in the past year.

Cities were split on whether homelessness will increase in the next year: A third expected a small increase in family homelessness, while another third expect it to remain the same. Most of the cities did not expect homeless resources to increase.

Denver could have two additional homeless resources next year: The Denver Rescue Mission has begun construction on a day-services community center, which will not include beds, behind its overnight shelter at Lawrence and Broadway, and Denver's Road Home and the Mayor's office are trying to purchase a building in the Athmar Park neighborhood to house a behavioral health crisis center, which will sleep 46 individuals at a time. Denver City Council is expected to vote on the building purchase this month; the proposal will have its first hearing tonight.

This past year, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless also opened Renaissance Stout Street Lofts, which can house 78 households.

To read the complete report, click here.

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