Myths and FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Creating safe shelters is a step toward ensuring the safety of homeless people, but shelters are not always healthy living situations for someone experiencing homelessness. For many, sleeping out-of-doors has become a comfortable life-style, much preferred to unfamiliar faces, tight quarters and rules. Shelters may trigger people living with serious mental illnesses like PTSD or mood disorders and staying in the shelters may make them a danger to themselves or others. Many shelters in Weld County also have wait lists that can be as long as 25 people, making it chalenging to go to a shelter, even if someone wanted to. Also, there are currently no shelters in Weld County for anyone under 18.

     

  • The largest contributors to homelessness and housing instability in Weld County are unaffordable housing and inadequate wages. To afford a 2-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent in Colorado, a household must earn $19.89 per hour to live stably. In other words, if someone were making minimum wage, they would have to work 97 hours each week to afford that apartment sustainably. It is estimated that there is a lack of 3,866 affordable units for the low income families of Weld County. Paying too much income toward rent creates housing instability, makes households more susceptible to housing crises and perpetuates the cycle of homelessness.

    Click Here to learn more about the cost of living in Weld County.

  • Most individuals experiencing homelessness in Weld County are actually not living on the streets/in the park. The 2017 Point-in-Time Count found 37 unsheltered individuals as compared to 207 individuals living in shelters. McKinney-Vento numbers – the number of students experiencing homelessness – in 2014-2015 found that 1013 students were living either in literal homelessness or doubled up. While it may seem as though all individuals experiencing homelessness live in public spaces, it is very important to realize that these individuals represent a tiny portion of the true scope of homelessness in our community.

    Many families in Weld County double -up, or live together out of financial necessity, not out of choice. This can have many negative consequences on families, including significant deficits in childhood educational achievement, psychological problems for elementary aged children and increased likelihood that adolescents engage in delinquent behavior.

  • Homelessness will never go away completely. However, communities across the nation can (and have) reached functional zero with some of their homeless populations. This means that, while no community can fully address every crisis that results in higher risks of losing a home, they can create systems that ensure those individuals and families stay in their homes (preventing homelessness) and systems that allow people to move quickly back into permanent housing, with appropriate support to keep them in that housing. These models are called Housing First and have been shown to be more effective, sustainable and cost efficient than previous housing models. New Orleans was the first city to reach functional zero in 2015 for their veteran population and Salt Lake City has used these systems to reduce the most challenging, life-long cases of chronic homelessness by 91% in 2016.

    Learn more about Housing First.

  • If charities stopped providing for basic needs, people would die. Providing fewer resources will not stop rising housing costs. Reducing free meals offered will not increase the minimum wage to an amount that is livable. Less clothing will not help folks with medical disabilities find sustainable employment. The goal of our work is not to reduce homelessness by removing it completely from our county; it is to align these services and funds already being used to address homelessness so that they can be utilized in effective, evidence-based and sustainable ways. Our community is already paying a heavy price to keep people living in homelessness. They answer is not providing less; it is doing more than we are with what we already have.

  • The fact of the matter is that there is no way to know what will happen after we build out these services. We can, however, project that Weld County’s population will double by 2050, meaning our most vulnerable families currently experiencing homelessness could also double in numbers. It is more important to plan for the well-being of our growing community than to worry about the ifs, ands or buts. If we don’t do this work, more families will be displaced, more children will fall behind in school, more veterans will face combat-like conditions even at home, and more individuals will utilize community resources in ineffective and costly ways. This is not a question of if but when. It is better for the community if we create plans to address this challenge before it grows. It is either this, or we choose to let growing numbers of Weld County citizens suffer for the fear of bringing in a few others.

    Building out these services is not a beacon of light attracting vulnerable folks away from whatever support systems they have established, but a saving grace for Weld County’s most vulnerable families in case the population doubles, fewer housing options are available and the federal minimum wage remains stagnant.

Myths

  • Fact: The major cause of homelessness is the decrease of affordable housing units, especially as Colorado’s population continues to rise dramatically. By every measure, the housing affordability gap — that is, the gap between incomes and housing costs — has grown dramatically wider over the past three decades. Over half of Colorado’s low income households spend at least 50% of their income on housing costs, making them increasingly vulnerable to housing instability and homelessness. Weld County is the 4th most expensive housing market in the nation when compared to the average income of residents. In 2015, a household would have had to make $19.35 per hour to sustainably afford a two bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent (FMR), which is the estimate of how much a rental unit should cost in a given area were it available for lease. In other words, at the current minimum wage, someone would have to work 80 hours per week to live stably.

    Those that receive Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits often cannot work due to legal restrictions with their benefits and/or physical/mental debilitating chronic conditions. Unfortunately, at around $730 per month maximum, this SSDI income cannot cover FMR for rental units in most Colorado communities, forcing these vulnerable individuals to rely on disappearing federal housing subsidies. These challenges even affect seniors, as the average monthly rent rose above the total amount of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), also known as Social Security, for the first time in history in 2006. Many of our nation’s seniors rely solely on SSI and are living in homelessness because of that. These numbers depict a very different narrative than the one so often painted of those that rely on federal subsidies for income; this story is one of instability, stress and increased vulnerability. This narrative tells that unaffordable housing due to the rapid increase in demand and stagnant, unlivable wages are the main contributors to homelessness and living unstably in Colorado today.

     

  • Fact: The Point-in-Time Count is a federally mandated survey for any community in the United States that receives federal funding for homelessness efforts through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Each year, communities across the nation attempt to survey those experiencing homelessness in their areas in order to better understand how to address this challenge. In 2015, over 250 individuals were surveyed in Weld County. Only 1 individual reported that they came to Weld County as a result of the legalization of marijuana, and that person said there were many other reasons for choosing this area as well. While it is true that many individuals experiencing homelessness struggle with substance abuse challenges, it is unfair to say that there is an increase of homelessness in Colorado due to this new legislation. For Colorado and Weld County specifically, this challenge is much more likely caused by unaffordable housing and unlivable wages.

  • Fact: Three decades of research show that people become homeless for a myriad of reasons: loss of a job or lowered wages, inability to find adequate, affordable housing, health care crises, increased rent, a family emergency or even landlord bullying. Often, if needed services are even available, they are located in other communities which means leaving all support networks behind. For many individuals living with physical and/or mental challenges, this type of move can be more problematic than helpful. Although it seems to the outside eye that this individual or family is choosing homelessness, the reality is that they are choosing to remain stable in a trusted location as opposed to trying to live independently in a new area where they feel they may not be successful.

     

    Program limitations are another cause of this myth. Often, only VERY specific households are eligible for services. For example, if a family was evicted and has had to move in with relatives temporarily out of necessity, they are ineligible for many housing programs, even though recent research has shown how detrimental this overcrowded lifestyle can be. Their only other option would be to move into a shelter (if there are any immediate openings, which is not usually the case in Weld County), which may mean exposing themselves or their children to the environments that often accompany shelter lifestyles. Those lifestyles also make it very difficult for individuals with mental health or substance abuse challenges to stay in shelters. Strict regulations, lots of people and chaos, and the often overcrowding that accompanies many emergency shelter programs often pushes those most vulnerable individuals out of shelters and onto the streets, limiting the resources they know about and have access to. These individuals and families are not expecting someone to hand them the key to their new apartment without any work on their part. But they should not be expected to give up every aspect of their life in order to receive services (which do not guarantee housing placement currently in Weld County) simply because they do not have a stable home. Communities do not expect that of stably housed households receiving services and, therefore, should not expect that of those experiencing homelessness.

  • Fact: There are actually quite a few effective solutions for dramatically and sustainably reducing homelessness. Many housing programs are based on the “Housing First” model, which states that an individual, no matter how challenging or chronic their homelessness has been, will be more successful in maintaining housing once they are living stably. The idea is that, once an individual or family has a stable place to call home, they can begin to focus on self-sufficiency as opposed to struggling to survive on a day-to-day basis. Programs based on the Housing First model place clients directly into housing without any prerequisites or program demands. This model has led to cities like Salt Lake City, Utah, sustainably reducing their most challenging cases of homelessness by 91% in December of 2015.  Housing First has shown to be incredibly cost reducing as well. Often, those most chronic individuals, that are best helped through a Housing First program, use the most community resources (around 50%) even though they make up the smallest portion (about 10%) of those experiencing homelessness; these savings then translate into broader preventative programs, keeping more families living stably when unexpected expenses arise. Learn more about Housing First.

     

    While it is true that no system can ever prevent the unexpected crises that often lead to homelessness, communities can (and do) create successful continuums that quickly, effectively, and sustainable move households from instability to stability while saving taxpayer money and limiting the trauma associated with losing one’s home.

  • Fact: A journalist in Maryland spent time immersed in the lifestyle of people living in homelessness and was surprised by much of what he learned. On the causes of homelessness, he had this to say: “Aside from a small number of ‘nomad/traveler’ types, people do not choose to be homeless.  The circumstances in their lives have led them toward a path where being homeless is a last option.  Look at how much invisibility and loss of dignity is attached to being homeless. Or the constant threat of discrimination and violence. Really, who would not actually want a roof over their head? A safe place to sleep is a basic necessity, but for many people there are no safe places (including shelters), which may be why the streets become their best/only option.”

    In the same way that unemployed individuals often say they are “between jobs,” individuals experiencing homelessness will work hard to avoid being identified as homeless. Facing their situation as one that may not be temporary is a tough pill to swallow and many will deny that their homelessness might last longer than they think it will.  

  • Fact: While the most visible segment of those experiencing homelessness can be found in shelters or on the streets, this population does not constitute the majority of those living unstably. Individuals and families living in cars, vans, and RVs have dramatically increased in numbers in recent years, with some studies finding that 30% of those experiencing homelessness not living in shelters to be living in their vehicles.

    In Weld County specifically, a majority of those living unstably are living doubled-up. This means that 2 or more families occupy one housing unit out of necessity. In the 2013-2014 school year, Weld County school districts reported 1,013 children living either in literal homelessness (in a shelter, outside, in a car or other location not meant for human habitation, or in prepaid hotel/motel rooms) or living doubled-up; this number does not include the other families members living unstably as well, just those enrolled in Weld County schools. Research shows that living doubled-up can cause psychological problems in elementary school children and significantly delay academic progress, among other long-term side-effects. 

  • Fact: About one third of those experiencing homelessness are part of a family. Research shows that only a small percentage of adults in homeless families suffer from serious mental illness and/or addiction disorders. Unaffordable housing is much more often the culprit for causing family homelessness. For homeless single adults, the rates of mental illness and addiction disorders are higher: around one-third among homeless single adults in shelters, and around two-thirds among homeless adults sleeping on the streets or in other public spaces.

    While it is important to realize that not all individuals experiencing homelessness also experience mental health and substance abuse challenges, it is equally important to understand those experiencing homelessness AND mental health/substance abuse challenges face an even more difficult road. There is a lack of accessible resources for this population facing these challenges, many housing programs outside of the Housing First model require sobriety for program entry, and maintaining stability can be impossible with the unstable life that so often accompanies homelessness. An individual experiencing homelessness and mental health/substance abuse challenges should not be pushed further to the sidelines; they need access to care, affordable treatment options, and stable social support just like their stably housed counterparts receiving treatment for mental health and substance abuse challenges.

  • Fact: In 1984 under President Ronald Reagan, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the Lifeline Assistance program to promote universal access to telecommunications services in the US. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act which offered a subsidy through the Lifeline Assistance program that helped to provide essential communications technology (at the time, the subsidy was created for landlines) to low-income individuals and families. As telecommunications technology moved away from landlines and toward mobile cell phones, smaller cell phone companies began partnering with the federal government to continue providing up-to-date access to telecommunication to those low income households. Safelink Wireless offered the first free cell phone in 2008 during George W. Bush’s presidency and this program continues today under President Barack Obama. This program, also known as the Obama Phone, has grown dramatically in recent years as more households are eligible for the subsidy since the Great Recession. This is why most individuals experiencing homelessness now have access to up-to-date (and free) cell phone technology. Phones and internet are critical to securing employment and maintaining it. With ever-advancing technology, it is imperative that this vulnerable group not be left behind.

     

    Medical studies show that approximately three-fourths of adults experiencing homelessness use cigarettes regularly. Many challenges contribute to this fact. First, many households experiencing housing instability will choose rent payments over cable payments, resulting in less access to anti-smoking marketing. Second, households that are housing cost burdened (meaning they spend more than 30% of their income towards housing costs) and those living in homelessness will often cut corners on healthcare expenses out of necessity, meaning fewer primary care visits at which a trusted medical professional can explain the determinates of smoking to one’s health. Finally, those living in homelessness are focused on one thing – survival. They are more vulnerable to attacks and thefts, they do not have a place to relax, and their lives are comprised of stressful decisions and dangerous situations. Often, smoking acts as the one thing they feel they can control. It is cheaper and less dangerous than other drugs, it provides a bit of warmth and stress release, and it can allow someone who feels that their life is spiraling out of control a few moments of peace. When we see stably housed individuals smoking, we do not question their personal integrity and doing so to another simply because they do not have a home is not only unfair, but illogical. Quitting is nearly impossible for anyone that is addicted, even without the added stress of homelessness. Furthermore, the cost of that cigarette (if they even bought it with their own funds) will do almost nothing toward attaining affordable housing on unlivable wages. It is important that we see those experiencing homelessness as people first and realize that even though they do not have a stable home, that does not suddenly give others the right to criticize each decision they make when those same judgments are not made of those that do not appear homeless.

  • Fact: Not all panhandlers are homeless, but almost all are poor and in need. Whether or not to give money to people panhandling on the streets or in the subway system is a personal decision.

    Another aspect of this situation is to realize that they may not want money; they may be in need of something else like socks, toothpaste, basic first aid tools, etc. If you are feeling uncomfortable giving someone cash, take the opportunity to ask them what they may need. Many people feel uncomfortable talking to a homeless person but what we need to realize is that these people are humans, just like you and me. While their lifestyles may be different and their stories much more diverse (and often more traumatic), they still deserve the respect of human dignity. Speaking to them is no different than speaking to a stranger at the supermarket, who may be just as likely to abuse recreational drugs. Assuming you know what they will use the money for suggests that you know their needs (often without even knowing their name) better than they do. They may want the money for something with which you do not agree, but if you never ask, you will never know.

  • Fact: In many large cities, it is not hard to find and access three free meals a day for those experiencing homelessness. The issue with these meals is not having the ability to choose what you are eating. Many of these meals are intended to fill as many stomachs as possible for as little money possible. This results in carb heavy, nutrient depleted diets that not only contribute to long-term health issues, but also add to the stress and loss of control of daily living for those experiencing homelessness. These diets lead to exhaustion, decreased strength and focus (especially for school-aged children), and make those following them more susceptible to disease and sickness. They are not starving, but they are starving for nutrients. The diet that much of the homeless population relies on is often criticized when eaten by those living stably. Why do we justify this kind of food intake for one population while focusing on its determinants for another?

What Should I Do If?

The question of how to help a homeless person on the streets is not always an easy one, and while some general answers are outlined below, the best place to start is by remembering the humanity of each man or woman you see in a public place. Treat each and every person with dignity – but also follow your own instincts. And remember that small acts of kindness can have tremendously positive repercussions in the lives of others.