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Racism, Redlining, And Recessions: Vastly Greater Numbers Of People Homeless Than Previously Reported, With BIPOC Folks Far More Likely To Suffer


Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, a body responsible for distributing federal funds to address homelessness in the seven-county Denver Metro region, has put out a shocking report under the banal title, “State of Homelessness 2020 Report.”

Though the annual Point In Time (PIT) count for 2020 determined there were 6,104 people experiencing homelessness in the region, the count in the HMIS data system that tracks unique individuals who seek aid was 31,207: a factor of more than 5 times greater.

Despite a common belief that addiction and bad choices are the cause of homelessness, the report shares that “the top reasons of homelessness in the region are high housing costs, a lost job or inability to find work, and relationship or family break up . . . .” The overview section is brief yet rich:

“This report highlights two overarching trends in homelessness. First, inherent in homelessness, is the racial inequity that must be addressed. Second, the only long-term solution to homelessness is housing. The region faces a significant affordable housing crisis, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact.”

This year’s Boulder PIT count showed Black people are 12 time more represented in the County’s unhoused population compared to the general population. For the region, indigenous people are 7 times overrepresented. Combined with the fact that, per the report, “the leading cause of homelessness, not just in this region but around the country, is a lack of affordable housing,” gentrification, failure to invest in affordable housing, inequitable (read racist) lending policies, and the wealthy using real-estate as an investment vehicle, all lead to the crisis in homelessness.

For example, a recent study found that redlining, “a discriminatory practice that puts services (financial and otherwise) out of reach for residents of certain areas based on race or ethnicity,” continues despite supposed efforts to end the practice. “Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.”

Despite these systemic and racist causes of homelessness, people like Boulder Housing and Human Services Director Kurt Firnhaber continue to argue that providing services just attracts more homeless people – even though the count of people experiencing homelessness in Boulder has increased concurrent with a service bed count decrease of 70%. Firnhaber, before a person recently froze to death in the September snow storm, said “[We need to be] honest with them about what their options are [and] say, ‘We’ll have 180 beds in our community this winter [so] you’re likely not going to have a place to stay . . .”

Turns out racism is at work not only at mortgage lenders, but in local government too. 

Darren O’Connor is an attorney in Boulder practicing in the areas of eviction defense, family law, criminal defense, and civil rights. He can be reached at [email protected].

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