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Why more unhoused people are headed to DIA

How Denver’s housing crisis has stretched all the way to DIA 

I don’t need to tell you that the shortage of affordable housing in Denver has soared to crisis-level heights. It’s obvious in our city’s skyrocketing rent and outrageous housing market, the resources (or lack thereof) being offered to our unhoused neighbors, and the debates over sanctioned campsites and encampment sweeps.

A recent 9News investigation shows that the ramifications of our housing issues have noticeably extended some 25 miles away from the city, all the way to Denver International Airport.

Data reviewed by 9News reporters — including arrest stats, court records, and police body cam footage — shows that police encounters with people experiencing homelessness at DIA has nearly tripled since 2018, with 1,000 instances just last year. 

How and why are people traversing all the way to DIA?
Mostly, it appears, they’re using the A-Line train, in search of shelter from the elements, warmth, outlets to charge phones, and somewhere to use the bathroom. 

Cathy Alderman, with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, speculates this increase in unhoused people at the airport is a direct result of the city’s homeless sweeps.

“As we see more enforcement of the camping ban in the downtown area, we’re pushing people away from where the centralized services are,” Alderman said. 

The city, of course, rejects that suggestion, instead citing the problem as a nationwide trend.

Police body cam footage reviewed by 9News shows one person experiencing homelessness who was arrested at DIA telling officers he came to the airport to avoid COVID: “You guys don’t have any more shelters,” he said. “Too many sick people over there. I’m not trying to get sick either.”

The bigger picture:
Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicates that the number of people in Colorado’s shelters or transitional housing increased by 266% from 2007 to 2021 — more than any other state in the nation. Ultimately, Colorado ranked fifth in the country for people in shelters or transitional housing, and Denver specifically ranked third for the number of unhoused veterans, behind only Los Angeles and New York City. 

Representatives from the city and the police department say they try to connect the people they come in contact with at DIA to shelter and housing resources upon arrest. 

“Obviously, we are not going to give up. We’re going to continue to help people that are coming out that are in need. But there also has to be a priority for the airport to focus on safety and security,” Denver’s City Attorney Kristin Bronson told 9News.

On today’s City Cast Denver podcast, 9News reporter Jeremy Jojola tells Bree a little more about his investigation:

“An independent study has shown that Denver’s Housing First program is cheaper than the cycle of jail and hospital stays over and over again. But when you have so many people who need the service, but only hundreds of people in the program, it’s making a dent, but it’s not making a dent in a way where it’s mitigating the number of people experiencing homelessness.”

So what IS being done?
As the conversation for combatting Denver’s growing housing crisis continues, here is some of what’s currently being done to address it:

– Mayor Hancock recently announced a “housing surge” initiative to house 400 residents experiencing homeslessness in 100 days. 

– Sanctioned campsites for unhoused residents, or “Safe Outdoor Spaces,” continue to receive city funding and community support (see more on that below 👇)

– A proposal to make the inclusion of affordable housing options mandatory for multi-family residential developers is being considered by city officials. 

🎧 LISTEN: Did Denver Sweep Unhoused Folks All The Way To The Airport?



🚩 Drama in DougCo continues: War continues to wage in Douglas County between teachers, students, and school board members, with threats of election recalls, petitions, and lawsuits. Monday afternoon hundreds of students dressed in black and walked out of school to protest the unexpected termination of superintendent Corey Wise. [Catch up quickly.]

  • 💬 Highlands Ranch junior Asella Straus told CPR: “Everything was very unethical, the way that it was treated. He wasn’t given any fairness when it came to it. The majority board we could see clearly did not care about the students’ voices, about community’s voices.”

Safe Outdoor Spaces gets a boost: Denver City Council showed its confidence in sanctioned campsites for unhoused residents Monday night when the council voted 11-1 to inject a fresh $3.9 million into the program for 2022.  

  • 🔎 More: The lone “no” vote came from councilperson Amanda Sawyer. She said: “We all want to help people, we just have different opinions on how we should be prioritizing our spending.”

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It’s Wednesday — we’re halfway to the weekend! But if you’re struggling over the hump today and looking for a reason to smile, this Denver Post photo gallery aptly titled “Golden Retrievers take over Golden, Colorado, for Goldens in Golden” should do the trick… 

(Photo by Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

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