Homelessness in Boulder County is rising, according to a recent point-in-time count. Credit: John Herrick

In January, volunteers counted 839 homeless people living in Boulder County, a notable increase from prior surveys and more confirmation that homelessness is rising across the Denver metro region. 

The point-in-time count, published on July 21, includes people living in shelters, transitional housing or unsheltered people sleeping outside. It was conducted by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, an organization designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to coordinate homelessness services across the region. 

The data is a snapshot in time that can vary based on weather, methodology and the turnout of volunteers who do the counts. For instance, due to Covid-19 pandemic precautions, volunteers did not count unsheltered people in 2021. During this year’s count, on Jan. 30, unusually cold temperatures dropped to as low as minus 7 degrees Fahrenheit, potentially complicating participation among volunteers and the unhoused.

Despite these drawbacks, the point-in-time counts are among the best estimates available for how homelessness is trending across Boulder County. 

This year’s count indicates homelessness in Boulder County is the highest it has been since 2017. Since then, the previous high was in 2020, when 689 homeless people were counted in Boulder County. 

The grim milestone is reflected in the recent increase in the number of students considered homeless or housing unstable in the Boulder Valley School District and a rise in eviction case filings in Boulder County courts, which spiked earlier this year to the highest levels since 2020, the start of the pandemic. More recent state data, however, indicate eviction case filings have since dropped off to previous levels in recent months. 

“While the world is no longer in a pandemic, we are beginning to feel the full economic fallout” of Covid-19, Jamie Rife, executive director for MDHI, said in a news release this week announcing the point-in-time survey results. 

Rife said Covid-19 funding to prevent homelessness is coming to an end and more households are struggling to pay rent. “This, paired with inflation and the increased cost of housing, is resulting in many people falling into homelessness and many being unable to obtain housing,” Rife said. 

Nearly half of those counted in Boulder County — 399 people — reported experiencing homelessness for less than one year and for the first time, according to the 2023 point-in-time count. 

Roughly a third — 243 people — were “unsheltered.” By comparison, in 2022, volunteers counted 82 unsheltered homeless people. This applies to people whose primary nighttime residence is “a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground,” according to MDHI. 

Homeless people in Boulder County are disproportionately Black, Indigenous or Latino, according to MDHI’s data. 

The point-in-time count does not report its Boulder County data by city or town. In the City of Boulder, officials have estimated about 450 homeless people live here. On most nights, the city’s largest shelter in North Boulder, the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, sleeps up to 160 people and often hits capacity in the winter months. 

Information on how to volunteer for the 2024 point-in-time count will be released in October, according to MDHI.

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email: john@boulderreportinglab.org.

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  1. The Point-in-Time count of homeless people has always been grossly inaccurate, missing at least half of those living outside year-round. I refused to participate in it for several years, because it seemed to me to be little more than a fundraising tool for the nonprofits that have failed so badly at “ending homelessness.”

  2. If you look at the PIT breakdowns available at MDHI.org, you should notice that it states the data collected is all SELF-REPORTED. This already skews the data. Toss in bad weather, meaning more people hunker down and are harder to find, and the data is off even more. And, while the count is completely inaccurate, the weather was better in 2023 than 2022, meaning more completed SELF-REPORTING surveys. The PIT is simply a snapshot of who we find and what they want to tell us on one specific day of the year. This PIT tells us that too many entered into homelessness for the first time and that many are from the ages of 18 to 24, or transitional age adults. The only positive to the 2023 PIT is that the veteran count decreased. Absolutely nothing shocking for a person that’s been on the ground for 5 years.

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