As a biting wind delivered the first inches of snow for the year on Thursday morning, hundreds of people experiencing homelessness gathered inside of the Denver Convention Center.
Among them was Dana Young, who moved to Denver two months ago from Las Vegas and who now lives at the New Genesis shelter.
Like the others here, Young showed up at the convention center for the annual Project Homeless Connect, a massive gathering of nonprofits and other organizations dedicated to helping people without stable housing find shelter, food, work, clothing, even a haircut. About 1,500 people looking for help showed up to meet with more than 130 service providers.
Denver’s Road Home, a program of Denver Department of Human Services, hosted the event with support from United Way.
Young said he has experienced homelessness on and off, and once he arrived at the convention center he paired up with volunteer Ken Bazan, who led him through the labyrinth of tables. Bazan was once close to homelessness, he said, and so he wanted to help. Young, who declined to talk about his life in detail, said he grew up in Chicago, a needy child among eight other siblings.
“I just came from a home that didn’t have the support,” he said. “I just fell through the cracks.”
About 5,755 people in metro Denver were homeless on the street or in shelters on Jan. 28 of this year, according to a survey from the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. While the number of people counted in the survey — conducted once a year on one night — has gone down since 2005, the debate over how to help those without stable housing has grown more acute as the region has become a more expensive place to live.
In 2018, nearly half of Colorado renters said they were spending more than 30% of their incomes on housing. The average Colorado home price jumped 77% between 2008 and 2018, while the median income rose 4.5%, according to the Colorado Health Institute.
During the recent municipal election, how the city treats those without housing became the subject of much debate. Voters chose to uphold a contentious urban camping ban, which outlaws sleeping in public places. The law is now being challenged in court.
At the convention center Thursday, in the cluster of tables dedicated to housing services, Sharon Richey was on hand to represent Bayaud Enterprises and its Denver Day Works employment program. Day Works has a partnership with Denver Human Services and, according to its records, has helped 352 people find permanent employment or work within the program since it began in 2016.
Richey said she and her son spent 20 months in shelters fleeing domestic violence before finding more permanent housing. Richey has been with Bayaud for six months and says she is excited about all of the resources the program offers for people in need.
The day-long event has gradually grown over the past several years, Chris Connor, director of Denver’s Road Home, said. This year, it included partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans of Foreign Wars and The Colorado Veterans Project.
Connor said that while the number of those without housing has fallen in the city by roughly 25 percent since 2006, it doesn’t change the experiences of people in homelessness right now.
“One person in homelessness is too many,” he said.