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Homeless on rise in Colorado

By Colleen O’Connor
The Denver Post

DENVER (AP) – The number of homeless people in Colorado increased nearly 11 percent between 2011 and 2012, while the national homeless rate remained largely unchanged, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In metro Denver, the problem is worse.

The number of people sleeping on the streets more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, according to the 2012 Point in Time report from Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, to 964 from 411.

“There was a slight increase in the newly homeless and those homeless for the first time,” said Linda Barringer, a MDHI board member.

Newly homeless is defined as being homeless within the last 30 days. The first-time homeless person may have been without housing for a much longer period but had not been homeless before.

In Colorado, the situation of homeless veterans is improving, decreasing 27 percent between 2011 and 2012 to 1,512 from 2,074, according to HUD.

In metro Denver, the number of homeless veterans increased slightly, to 12.9 percent from 11.7 percent, according to the MDHI.

But strategy is in place.

“We’ve seen a lot of effort and a lot of money going into housing vets,” said Barringer, who lauds the partnership between HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In November, the MDHI joined the national movement of communities involved in the 100,000 Homes campaign, which aims to find permanent homes for 100,000 chronically homeless people by 2014.

In metro Denver, the work is focused on homeless veterans, and the homeless initiative developed a “vulnerability index” by collecting data for a month at many locations – including shelters, food banks and the annual Homeless Veterans Stand Down.

The detailed survey “determines those most likely to die on the streets,” Barringer said.

Interviews at the stand-down were particularly distressing, she said. Most vets had been “generally homeless for a very long time, and some had multiple and significant health issues like liver disease and diabetes.”

Some said they had visited emergency rooms as many as 30 times in the previous year.

The MDHI still is preparing its report, with the hope of fostering change using the economic argument of high medical costs for homeless vets.

In October, a three-day Rapid Results Housing Placement Boot Camp united groups such as the MDHI and Denver’s Road Home with outreach teams and regional experts from HUD and the VA to figure out how to shorten the time required to move a homeless vet into housing.

It capitalized on the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (VASH), which provides vouchers and case management to house homeless veterans.

Davida Barlow, a 37-year-old single mother, is one veteran who benefited from the partnership. A Navy veteran who served during the mid-1990s, she was working as a bus driver in Colorado Springs when unexpected car problems threw her into financial crisis.

The rent money went to fixing the brakes on the car, and she ended up homeless.

She and her two children moved from shelter to shelter until March, when she landed a place at the Del Norte homes in Denver through the HUD-VASH program.

“I love it,” said Barlow, now enrolled at Front Range Community College. “It’s beautiful – three bedrooms and fully furnished. It’s such a blessing.”

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