A homeless person with a shopping cart loaded with belongings takes shelter from the chilly wind at a bus stop on North Avenue near 28 Road on Wednesday. Grand Junction’s homeless population, per capita, is higher than other large Colorado cities.
The Common Sense Institute released a report Wednesday saying the number of unhoused, and particularly unsheltered and unhoused, people has been rising rapidly in Grand Junction in recent years.
The report estimates Grand Junction’s homeless population grew by about 43% from 2019 to 2021, and said the portion of Grand Junction’s population that is unhoused is higher than that of other large cities in Colorado.
Grand Junction has experienced a significant rise in its homeless population recently. The city’s homelessness problem stands out among other large Colorado cities — as a share of the city’s total population, its homeless population is 14% higher than Denver’s, 75% higher than Boulder’s, and 165% higher than Colorado Springs, according to the report.
An unsheltered homeless person has “a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regularly sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The report makes reference to Grand Junction’s annual “point in time” count, which counts all the unhoused people in Grand Junction at a given time and is used to estimate the size of the unhoused population.
Although the Grand Junction area’s most recent point in time count hasn’t been finalized, Grand Junction Community Development Director Tamra Allen said the city is aware homelessness has been on the rise, with area service providers for unhoused people reporting “dramatic increases.”
Grand Junction Housing Specialist Ashley Chambers said in an email to Allen that she expects a big jump in this year’s point in time count based on projections.
Chambers noted the point in time count should not be considered a comprehensive measurement of the unhoused population.
“I think we are significantly increasing in homelessness, and our vacancy rate for homeownership is 0.9% and rentals is 1.9%, which means once someone loses their housing there’s literally nowhere for them to go,” Chambers wrote.
Chambers indicated in her email a crisis could soon be on hand.
Allen said Wednesday the city has been working to connect the unhoused population with services, but has found that as the unhoused population increases, there is a need for the city to do more.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, so we’re anxious to bring the city’s resources to the table,” Allen said.
Grand Junction has hired two people to focus on housing issues, including issues affecting the unhoused population, with plans to hire a third. The city has also conducted a survey of the local unhoused population, the results of which are expected to be presented next month, and plans to update its housing needs assessment and housing strategy, both of which were last updated in 2019.
Local service providers addressing housing and the unhoused population do a great job, Allen said, but there aren’t enough resources to go around for everybody, so the city is working with Mesa County to identify the areas where need is greatest.
“We’re focusing on how collectively our community collaborates and manages the increased need to help unhoused people exit being unhoused,” Allen said.