WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. -- How many people are sleeping under bridges, living in their cars, and spending the night in emergency shelters around Denver? And why are they homeless?
Those are questions agencies and volunteers around Denver are asking this week as they administer the annual "point in time" surveys. The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative collects the data for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). But for advocates, this is also a way to connect with people living on the streets, and find out what they need.
"When I first started doing [the point in time survey] it was only single people, and predominantly in Denver, not the suburbs," says Linda Barringer, with the MDHI and Family Tree in Wheat Ridge.
She and other volunteers, groups and police went out Monday night and Tuesday in Wheat Ridge. The west metro area is seeing larger numbers of homeless people. The severe weather shelter network is currently looking to open more emergency shelters in Arvada and Westminster.
Denver7 spoke with several people spending the night at an emergency shelter at the Sloan's Lake Community Church. These shelters only open on nights when the temperatures drops to a certain low, or if it's snowing.
Brett Waddell says up until a year ago he was able to stay in a motel. He had a job delivering newspapers. But when he could no longer afford the motel, he lost his job because he didn't have an address. He says the Denver area needs cheaper housing options.
"The cheapest room might be 300 dollars , the cheapest studio about a thousand," says Waddell.
He stays at the emergency shelters when they're open; the rest of the time he lives in his van.
Denver7 also followed the "point in time" group to a homeless camp at a Wheat Ridge park. About 10 people and three dogs were living in tents under a bridge. A 32-year-old woman identifying herself as "Tam" agreed to take a survey.
"If get a chance to tell my story versus being judged, it's a little easier," says Tam. "Just having someone ask me, what happened, is easier."
She says she's homeless because of a legal issue. She has lost custody of her four children and has been homeless on and off for about six years.
"We're not just out here because we didn’t feel like paying our rent. We all had something bad happen," she says.
Data collected from the 2017 point in time survey will be released later this year. To see information from Denver's 2016 point in time survey, click here.