Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Colorado Sees a Surge in Homelessness

by Jaclyn Zubrzycki
(This article is reprinted from the Colorado Trust. )

Nearly 25,000 Colorado children were homeless during the 2014-15 school year.

That’s more than twice as many as were homeless just seven years ago, according to the 2016 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, which takes stock of the well-being of children in the state.

The growth in homelessness comes even as the number of Colorado children living in poverty decreased for the second year in a row.

Colorado is not alone. According to the National Center for Homeless Education, which is part of the federal education department, school districts around the country have been reporting increases in homelessness for several years: 1,129,791 students in the 2011-12 school year; 1,216,888 in 2012-13; and 1,298,450 in 2013-14. National data for the most recent school year is not yet available.  

The authors of America’s Youngest Outcasts, a 2014 report on youth homelessness, attribute that increase to a combination of high poverty rates, lack of affordable housing, racial disparities, the challenges of single parenting, domestic violence and other traumatic experiences, and the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

A similar set of factors hold true in Colorado, said Kim Easton, CEO of Urban Peak, a nonprofit that offers services and shelters for homeless youth in Colorado Springs and Denver.

But the stark increase here seems particularly tied to what observers are calling a crisis in affordable housing, said Sarah Hughes, research director for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, a Trust grantee that publishes the KIDS COUNT report.

“Growth can be a good thing, but I think it’s important that we not lose sight of unintended consequences,” she said.

Chaer Robert, manager of the Family Economic Security program at the Colorado Center for Law & Policy (CCLP), also a Trust grantee, said the high cost of housing combined with stagnant wages has created an untenable situation for many families.

In Denver, for instance, housing prices and rental costs have skyrocketed. And while the rate of children living under the poverty line has decreased, the percent of children and families living in extreme poverty—a household income of $12,000 or less for a family of four—remained about constant.

For families who can’t find affordable housing, “their only option is doubling up,” Robert said, referring to the practice of sharing space with other persons due to economic hardship.

Robert said Colorado’s landlord-tenant laws are also more favorable to landlords than in many states. Landlords only have to give tenants on month-to-month leases seven days of notice before raising their rent, for instance. Those laws affect more families now than ever: 38 percent of Colorado families did not own their homes in 2014, up from 30 percent in 2006, according to the 2016 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report.

That instability for families shows up in the KIDS COUNT child homelessness figures. Denver, Mesa County and Pueblo counties saw the biggest increases in the percent of children without permanent housing over the last year. Adams and El Paso counties also saw significant increases in the number of homeless youth.

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