Colorado is experiencing an unprecedented and deepening housing crisis. With the cost of this basic need steadily climbing in what’s already one of the most expensive states to live in, new arrivals and longtime locals alike face tough decisions. The end of a countrywide moratorium on eviction looms; protections for renters unable to stay current due to pandemic hardships will expire on July 1. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of Coloradans are still unable to pay rent and at risk of losing their housing. In response, The Sopris Sun presents a series of stories throughout June with a focus on housing, looking particularly at solutions.
We begin the series by focusing on a worst case scenario: individuals and families living as unhoused neighbors. What factors lead to people experiencing chronic, transitional, and episodic homelessness? A recent webinar hosted by The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado (IAC), City of Glenwood Springs, Colorado Housing Finance Authority, and Glenwood Springs Chamber Foundation sought to answer that question.
“Homelessness is not just simply the people who are living outside or in a congregate shelter but also the people that have no place to go but the back of their car or hopping from a friend’s couch to a friend’s couch—or a family member’s couch—in hopes that they can continue to do that until they find stability,” IAC Director of Housing Justice Kathleen Van Voorhis emphasized that the scale of homelessness depends on the definition.
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development defines the experience as “living in a homeless shelter or a place not fit for human habitation.” The U.S. The Department of Education uses a broader definition that catches more families and includes people couch surfing, staying in cars and motels, and non-recreational campers.
A major driver of homeslessness is lacking family or community support. During COVID, with reported incidences of domestic violence rising across the nation, according to IAC, disconnection and isolation are especially prominent. Further exasperating circumstances, existing services were severely limited by public health-related capacity restrictions, pushing more people to sleep outdoors.
According to IAC, Colorado is the eighth most expensive state in the country to live in. Two full-time, minimum wage jobs will scarcely afford the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment. “There’s a strong correlation between rising housing costs and rising homelessness,” said IAC Housing Consultant Jen Lopez. Put simply, the average cost of a single-bedroom apartment statewide is $1,103. Minimum wage would have to be $19.49 to afford that, or a person would need to sustain a 71-hour work week at the current minimum wage.
The May 19 presentation (now archived in English and Spanish at bit.ly/IACGWS) described that while the cost of general goods and services increased 547% since the 1970s, all three common income indicators grew at a slower rate: minimum wage (353%); average wages (400%); median household income (511%). College tuition rates have increased more than 1,500% since the 1970s (nearly triple the growth of median household income). In short, people are exceedingly trapped in a cycle of poverty, with prospects of climbing the socioeconomic ladder eclipsed by accruing debt. All the while, housing prices have grown at more than 2.5 times the growth rate of minimum wage earnings and nearly double median household income growth since the 1970s across the nation.
But wait—“This is a moment in time where we’ll see more resources, it’s not all doom and gloom,” said Lopez.
The ultimate goal of these webinars, open to everyone, is to prepare a coalition to receive resources coming through the American Recovery Act. $67 million will be made available to help stabilize people at risk of becoming homeless and people that are already homeless. Better yet, human service workers are asked to “be innovative” with the money, exploring “housing first” solutions like converting vacant properties into apartments and transitional solutions, like establishing safe places for unhoused neighbors to sleep in their cars and access services for regaining stability.
“We gotta be in line so by July, we know what we want to do as a community,” says community advocate Debbie Wilde. With 39 years of experience working in human services in the Roaring Fork Valley, Wilde is spearheading the initiative.
Wilde was hired by the City of Glenwood Springs in 2019 as a project facilitator focused on homelessness. “COVID in some ways exasperated what was already underneath and in other ways moved it ahead quicker.” She explains that structural changes are necessary at a legislative level. In the meantime, the conversation is active and the time to act is now. “I’m not out to save the world, but we can make a difference right here, as a community.”
Wilde works closely with Built For Zero, a movement initiated by the national nonprofit Community Solutions. The model assesses what level of housing and services an individual needs based on their personal factors and then matches them with resources, including housing opportunities. Built For Zero finds that the majority of people experiencing homelessness can be stabilized and aims to bring the total count of unhoused people down to zero.
“You gotta believe it’s possible,” Wilde told The Sopris Sun. “I have every confidence that this group will come up with solutions.”
You can join the two remaining sessions (June 16 and July 21) by registering for free at bit.ly/gs_solutions
Rental assistance resources from Parachute to Aspen
Information provided by Eagle County, Garfield County, and Pitkin County Human Services
The cost of housing insecurity and homelessness economically impacts our entire community. Please review these resources for both landlords and tenants to try to resolve your housing dispute.
State and County Rental Assistance
Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance: cdola.colorado.gov/rental-mortgage-assistance
Garfield County Economic Assistance:
Glenwood Springs: 970–945–9191
Eagle County Financial Assistance: eaglecounty.us/EconomicServices/Financial_Assistance
Pitkin County Economic Assistance: 970–920–5244
Local Rental Assistance from Parachute to Aspen
Advocate Safehouse Project (for domestic and/or sexual violence survivors in Garfield County): 970-945-4439
Aspen Family Connections (Pitkin County): 970–205–7025
Catholic Charities (Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield Counties): 970–384–2060
Family Resource Center of the Roaring Fork Schools (for families with children in Roaring Fork School District): 970–384–9500
Garfield 16 Family Resource Center (for families with children in Garfield 16 School District): 970–285–5701
LaMedichi (Parachute to Aspen): 970–510–0411
Pitkin County Veterans’ Services (for active and retired military personnel and their families in Pitkin County): 970-987-4855
Reach Out Colorado (Parachute to Rifle): 970–459–0309
Response (for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse that live and/or work in the upper Roaring Fork Valley): 970-920-5357
River Center of New Castle (New Castle and Silt): 970–984–4333
Salvation Army (Parachute to Aspen): 970–945–6976
Valley Settlement (for immigrant families): 970-963-0851
Western Slope Veterans Coalition (one-time assistance provided for veterans): 970-233-8375
If you are unable to obtain rental assistance and cannot otherwise resolve your dispute, call 970-230–3935 between 9 a.m. and noon or 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. A trained, neutral party will help facilitate an agreement, if possible, between landlords and tenants from Parachute to Aspen who are having a housing dispute caused by COVID-19. Mediation is completely confidential and this service is free of charge thanks to a grant from Aspen Community Foundation.