Homelessness in Colorado on the rise, with Northern Colorado data coming into clearer focus

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Homeless count data from Larimer and Weld counties was represented on its own for the first time in this year’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. 

Northern Colorado was designated its own Continuum of Care by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year, meaning homeless data from the region is no longer grouped in with other areas of the state that make up what HUD calls the “balance of state.” 

The region’s first independent point-in-time count was done on Jan. 28, 2020, and found 765 people experiencing homelessness across Larimer and Weld counties. The count only recorded people in a shelter that night and used data on unsheltered homelessness from the previous year.

Previous coverage:Larimer and Weld counties get HUD help for homelessness programs

Of the people experiencing homelessness who were counted in Larimer and Weld last year, the vast majority were white, but racial inequities were present as the area’s minorities were overrepresented.

About 18% of people counted were deemed severely mentally ill, and 10% had chronic substance abuse problems. Most were older than 24. 

Melanie Woolman, co-chair of Northern Colorado’s homeless governing board, said the HUD designation allowed the continuum to collect “consistent and fair” data specific to the region.

The 2021 count for sheltered and unsheltered people was scheduled to take place in January, but the unsheltered portion was canceled because of COVID-19 safety concerns and the sheltered count was pushed back to February.

Woolman and her team are still analyzing data from the 2021 count.

Related:Fort Collins’ Mason Place provides a roof for 60 previously homeless residents

Before Northern Colorado was its own HUD-designated service area, it had to conduct its count using a method that was suitable for all 56 counties in the balance area, which didn’t allow for precise data collection.

“One of the main reasons we had to break away and establish our own continuum of care is that our needs up here in Loveland and Greeley and Fort Collins are really becoming much more urban than rural,” said Claire Bouchard, Woolman’s partner in leading the governing board. She said the balance of state methodology and count focused more on rural homelessness. 

The other areas with distinct homeless governing bodies that turn in their own homeless counts are the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs/El Paso County. All other areas in Colorado comprise the “balance of state.”

Related:North Fort Collins businesses say problematic interactions with homeless people have increased

An increase in homelessness in Colorado, nationwide

Even though Northern Colorado doesn’t have a similar level of data collected from previous years to compare, national trends show that homelessness is rising.

The report to Congress found about 580,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in 2020, meaning homelessness nationwide rose about 2%. It was also the first time unsheltered homelessness rose while sheltered homelessness stayed relatively flat. 

Almost 10,000 Coloradans were homeless in 2020, up 2.4% from the previous year according to the annual report.

“What makes these findings even more devastating is that they are based on data from before COVID-19 and we know the pandemic has only made the homelessness crisis worse,” said HUD secretary Marcia Fudge in a video accompanying the release of the federal report. The recently passed American Rescue Plan will provide an unprecedented amount of funding to support homeless services and providers. 

Though the point-in-time count is the nation’s main way of measuring homelessness, it has often been criticized for not giving an accurate picture.

It only counts people who can be found either in a shelter, transitional housing or on the streets. It does not count couch surfers or families “doubled up” with another, which are types of homelessness experts expect have increased this year because of COVID-19.

Read the whole report to Congress here and the Larimer and Weld counties count here

Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at mbohannon@coloradoan.com. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.