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DENVER – As Colorado constantly changes, Denver7 continues our new commitment to the state, addressing the growing pains that many of us are facing every day.
As we took a closer look at our state’s growth and the affordable housing crisis, we found thousands are on the verge of losing their homes.
Although many in this predicament have jobs, they are simply not making enough to keep a roof over their heads.
Unfortunately, homeless advocates say the situation is only getting worse.
It doesn't take much— an unexpected bill, a loss of a paycheck, ultimately any small interruption to your income and you can find yourself on the streets.
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) found 171,933, or 23 percent of renter households, are extremely low income.
“Those are households who have very low income, below the 30 percent of the area median income” John Parvensky, the President of Colorado Coalition for the Homeless explained. “These people are paying more than 50 percent of their income for rent.”
This means nearly 172,000 Coloradans are not making enough money to afford the home they are in right now. For this population, each day presents a new risk and hope these people can make it through the next paycheck.
“Ten years ago was a lot different in Denver,” Anthony McKinney told Denver7.
More than 2.5 million people lived across the metro area then. Today, well over 3 million call the Denver metro area “home.”
“Now, there's a lot -- it's just…” McKinney couldn’t find the words to describe the threat of being homeless, once again.
McKinney simply can’t afford to pay his rent, which has gone up with population growth.
“Now, the options are becoming slimmer and slimmer,” he said.
He’s referring to the options and resources available and necessary to care for the growing homeless population, and those who have found themselves in a similar position.
McKinney’s “Colorado” looks like so many others in the state. He’s employed, but not earning enough to have a stable income.
It’s a problem that has led to higher homeless numbers.
“Forty percent of those we encountered as homeless in January were homeless for the first time,” Parvenksy said.
He explained it’s not just individual people either.
According to Parvensky, “We're seeing an explosion in terms of homeless families.”
He’s referring to those who can’t afford the larger 3- to 4-bedroom homes they need. These are families who often cram into much smaller living quarters in order to make ends meet.
NLIHC found Colorado families must earn $21.97 an hour, at 40 hours a week, to afford the average two-bedroom home.
“If you're earning minimum wage at just over $7 an hour, you'd have to work 114 hours a week just to be able to afford the average apartment,” Parvensky said.
“If it's time for me to move on, then I guess this will be my cue,” McKinney said.
However, with new rules and regulations introduced within the city since McKinney was homeless last, the question is, “Where to?”
“There are more laws that are criminalizing homelessness, basically says you can't sleep on the city street or in a park,” Parvensky said. “If you are, you can be cited.”
Besides city laws, Colorado’s homeless said they are also competing for resources.
Alexxa Gagner with the Denver Rescue Mission said that “with the city’s changes, as far as employment and just the housing costs that are just so high, people just aren't able to afford it.”
She also said services at the Rescue Mission increased by 50 percent since 2008.
Gagner said the mission served 601,922 meals and sheltered 164,718 people then. Last year, 927,000 meals were served and 363,219 people were sheltered.
Parvensky said in the current environment, homelessness is more likely to happen to many people who thought that would never be the case before.
“And the climb out of homelessness, in these housing conditions, becomes that much more difficult,” he said.
He said addressing homelessness is not just charity, it’s an infrastructure issue.
“It's something that we, as a great city and great community, need to invest in, in order to create the vehicles to keep people in housing,” Parvensky said. “In doing that, that not only enriches their lives, but enriches our community.”