Many children among homeless in metro Denver, census shows FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 5 Nov 1998 13:50:55 -0400
FWD  Rocky Mountain News - October 21, 1998

         On any day in metro area, 1,633 kids under age 12 lack permanent

         By Carla Crowder - Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

A large number of homeless people in metro Denver can't drive, vote or hold

They're children.

On any given day, there are 1,633 children younger than 12 without
permanent homes. They live with their families in cars, emergency shelters,
night-to-night motels and temporary housing. And because the shelters are
full, some sleep on sidewalks or in bus stations.

That's what the Metropolitan Denver Homeless Initiative and the state
government found on the streets and in shelters this year during a
point-in-time census of the homeless.

"It's simply not acceptable for our children to be sleeping on the
streets," Gov. Roy Romer said.

The governor spoke at a news conference where results were released of the
state's first snapshot of homelessness since 1995.

Point-in-time surveys show what's happening with a trend on any given day.

On June 15, the day of the 1998 survey, 5,792 homeless people in all age
groups were living in metro Denver.

Surveyors found 3,330 homeless people in 1995. However, the two studies
were conducted differently, so the new numbers don't necessarily represent
an increase. Surveyors scouted for homeless people at more locations this
year and counted some groups not in the 1995 survey.

Contrary to myths that most homeless are single men who've been living on
the streets off and on for years, researchers found that half of the
homeless were adults and children in families. And most were newly
homeless, said Tracy D'Alanno, director of the Colorado Council on Housing
and the Homeless.

Romer called the number of homeless children "alarming."

And he predicted times will get tougher for families living on the edge.
Welfare reform deadlines are looming for those on public assistance, and
the economic boom won't last forever.

"I think you're going to see a real squeeze in homelessness in the next
substantial downturn," Romer said.

Pamela Anderson, 34, hopes to earn her general equivalency diploma and
settle into a job at a child-care center before that happens.

She and her 15-year-old son are homeless for the first time. Prayer and a
Greyhound bus brought them to Denver on Sept. 14. "We had nothing. We were
down to our last $20 when I got here," she said.

She said she fled Tacoma, Wash., where an abusive ex-boyfriend stalked her
for three years and threatened to blow up her apartment.

Anderson and her son feel lucky to have a room at Samaritan House, a
downtown Denver shelter run by Catholic Charities. All the shelters were
full their first five days in Denver, so they stayed in motels, one so
rundown the lights didn't work.

Skyrocketing housing costs, fueled by Colorado's booming economy, is the
greatest contributor to the homeless problem, say the experts. Also, half
of new jobs were retail, service or agricultural, which are some of the
lowest-paying trades, the survey says.

Fourteen percent of the homeless heard of Colorado's booming economy and
moved from other states only to find they couldn't afford apartments.

Homeless shelters are overflowing. They have waiting lists or lotteries for
open beds. "We've always had lotteries," said the Rev. Ed Judy at Samaritan
House. Families line up at 10 a.m., single women at 2 p.m. and single men
at 8:30 p.m. hoping their names are drawn.

Many aren't.

"This winter, on any given night, over 1,000 persons will not be able to
find shelter space," Romer said.

He hopes metro-area counties will use the census as a tool to build more
permanent solutions, such as transitional housing, family shelters and
affordable apartments.

Denver's Social Services Department increasingly resorts to pricey motel
rooms for families unable to find room at shelters.

In the first half of 1998, the city spent $205,000 on motel vouchers for
homeless families. That compares with $275,000 for all of 1997, said Karen
Miller-Hide, manager of the motel voucher program.

"I think there are a lot of people in those motels who are working poor,"
Miller-Hide said.

"Granted they can get jobs, but they can't get jobs that will allow them to
afford the kinds of rent landlords are charging now."


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