What contributes to homelessness in Denver? The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI) writes, “There are many causes of homelessness, and no list is exhaustive. Sometimes there is no singular cause, but rather several contributing factors.” We at Providence Network have likewise witnessed a variety of factors contributing to homelessness, a few of which we have compiled below.

Before we answer what causes homelessness, we want to know how many people are homeless in Denver, and even how much homelessness costs the city.

How many people are homeless in Denver?

According to the January 2023 MDHI Point-in-Time Count (PIT Report), over 9,065 people are experiencing homelessness in Metro Denver on a single night. (You can access current data here.) This number fluctuates each year, with the PIT count reporting 2,181 more people experiencing homelessness than the previous year.

Here’s another homeless statistic: 30,409 people accessed services or housing related to homelessness at HMIS Partner Agencies between July 2022 and June 2023. So while MDHI counted almost 10,000 people on one night experiencing homelessness, the actual number in a given year may be closer to 30,000 people.

How much does Denver spend on homelessness?

This is a difficult question to answer as the city is continually looking to meet the growing need of homelessness. According to one Denver Post article:

Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the business-oriented, “free-enterprise” advocacy group Common Sense Institute said Thursday that Denver spends between $42,000 and $104,000 each year per person experiencing homelessness. That total includes city government spending and spending on homelessness by charitable groups and Denver Health.

While our city spends more than an estimated $42,000 annually per person experiencing homelessness, Providence Network needs only $10,500 per person to provide holistic services designed to help people out of homelessness by addressing its root causes. So, what is contributing to all of this homelessness?

Six contributing factors to homelessness in Denver:

*Not arranged by frequency.

1. Substance abuse

In 2023, 38% of people experiencing homelessness were dependent on alcohol and 26% abused other drugs. While substance abuse is often a cause of homelessness, it can also be a result of it. In order to cope with the challenges of life on the streets, people may turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. MDHI continues to report high occurrences of substance abuse among unhoused populations.

In addition to serving those exiting homelessness and domestic violence, many of our transitional housing programs also support those entering into substance abuse recovery. Residents and many of the staff who also have lived experience with addiction celebrate sober milestones and walk with each other along their recovery journey.

2. Domestic violence

According to one US Department of Justice report, intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes. MDHI likewise reports that domestic violence is a common problem among most unhoused populations.

Providence Network is at the forefront of addressing the devastating effects of trauma and domestic violence through the work of Joy House, where staff help mothers and children recover from abusive situations. For Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, Joy House staff sat down to discuss domestic violence and our response.

3. Mental illness

Did you know that 20-25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness? This can make it difficult to access resources they need to sustain economic self-sufficiency. Likewise, MDHI also lists “Mental Health Concerns” as one of their top causes of homelessness.

This is why we at Providence Network offer counseling services as an integral part of our recovery programs. We believe in “changing lives from the inside out” and want to help our residents process and heal from the past traumas contributing to their homelessness.

4. Lack of affordable housing

Affordable housing units in Denver fill up quickly and are often accompanied by prolonged waiting periods of up to three years. As a result, people are forced to live in shelters, motels and cars, or worse, on the streets while they wait. The average cost of rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Denver is approximately $1,864, while the median home price is $580,000 (MDHI).

Providence Network’s transitional housing program is more needed than ever as it offers a safe and affordable place for program participants to live and sustain their recovery.

5. Unemployment

According to one report, 49% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. With the loss of a job, an individual or family can quickly find themselves in the midst of a homelessness crisis. When the MDHI asked people why they are homeless, one of the reasons given was “Lost a Job / Could Not Find Work.”

Our Providence Network staff actively help residents find a job and maintain it, or find a new one that enables them to focus on their recovery journey.

6. Low wages

75% of all low-income families are considered severely cost-burdened, spending more than half their income on rent, which requires them to make difficult decisions about whether to pay for food, childcare, transportation, or other essential services. Low wages make individuals and families more susceptible to homelessness, especially when faced with life-altering or emergency events.

One of our missional goals for our residents is economic self-sufficiency. We work with program participants to retain a job, save, and grow in their financial acumen to create a more stable financial future.

Did not find a cause of homelessness you were expecting? The MDHI State of Homelessness Report offers a number of other causes of homelessness in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson Counties.

So what is our solution to the challenge of homelessness in the Denver community?

Our Response: Transformational Housing

While the causes of homelessness are numerous and expensive, Providence Network believes we have an affordable and effective solution: transformational housing for women, men, and youth.

What makes our model transformational? Our holistic programs and services are grounded in the belief that Christ-centered community makes transformation possible. We are a spiritually-minded faith-based Christian community that provides a combination of individual counseling, group therapy, vocational assistance, life skills development, peer support, spiritual nurturing, and a loving community with 24/7 live-in staff. We welcome all people from all walks of faith, or no faith at all.

As we walk through two-years of transitional housing programming together, we get to see our neighbors heal from addictions, domestic violence, and homelessness by achieving economic self-sufficiency, forming healthy relationships, and developing restorative beliefs about their purpose and worth.

The cost to make this transformation a reality is approximately $10,500 per resident. Would you partner with us to create lasting change? Please sign up for our newsletter, make a donation, or join The Table. Thank you!