Over the last two years, the City of Golden’s thriving communities department has helped 30 unhoused individuals find permanent housing, and eight people stay in their current homes through eviction prevention assistance.
While city officials said it’s encouraging to see results like that, there’s a growing trend that Thriving Communities Director Sarah Vaine said “keeps me up at night.”
More Goldenites, particularly seniors living on fixed incomes, are needing help with eviction prevention, Vaine told City Councilors during a Sept. 26 work session.
Historically, the city’s been able to help people who need one-time assistance because of unexpected expenses like housing maintenance, medical bills or vehicle repairs. But, Vaine said the trend is shifting to people whose “monthly expenses are surpassing what their fixed income is” regularly.
Vaine described a local mobile home resident who has medical conditions, can’t work and is struggling to keep their home. Vaine said that this resident and others are struggling to answer the question: “Where am I going to go?”
“And then you hear 10 of those stories,” she told the councilors at the Sept. 26 work session. “… That’s what keeps me up at night.”
Vaine said her staff believes it’s crucial to “prevent homelessness before it begins,” so programs like rental assistance or eviction prevention are key to keeping Goldenites in their homes.
This year, the city has helped eight households through eviction prevention, using a $50,000 federal grant it received via Jefferson County. Those funds were fully expended by Aug. 1, Vaine continued, adding that the city’s applying for additional grants.
The city doesn’t have any other funds budgeted toward eviction prevention yet, but Vaine’s staff is still helping people on a case-by-case basis, partnering with local government partners and nonprofits to help them find the necessary resources.
Unfortunately, though, the city and some of its partner programs can’t help everyone, as recipients must prove some ability to pay current and future rent, Vaine and navigator Bodhi Horton later clarified via email.
Horton, the city’s housing and community assistance navigator, described helping some residents move into affordable or subsidized housing, and how the city continues to offer relocation help to rental/eviction prevention assistance recipients. But, Horton continued, Golden’s had to “deny several people since eviction was inevitable due to no income or foreseeable income.”
What is the right response?
Looking at the problem on a much wider scale, Vaine told the councilors how homelessness is typically a byproduct of low housing inventory and high home prices. Then, once people are left without a home, about 80% end up staying in the same area where they last lived, she continued.
Between the annual point-in-time counts in 2022 and 2023, Jeffco saw a 73% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness. Of those, 70 individuals were between ages 18-24, and 223 were families with at least one child. About 50% of those counted said they were experiencing homelessness for the first time, and about 30% were staying in places unsuitable for habitation, such as in cars or under bridges.
Despite all the need, Vaine said her department’s made tangible impacts since hiring Horton as a full-time navigator in 2022. Over the last two years, Golden has:
- Obtained permanent housing for 30 individuals;
- Provided 162 hotel vouchers; and
- Assisted 243 unhoused individuals with street outreach and case management, including food, medical benefits and other vital services.
During the Sept. 26 work session, Police Chief Joe Harvey, Vaine and others acknowledged safety issues related to unhoused individuals in Golden, specifically loitering behavior around certain shopping centers and neighborhoods. One Goldenite from the South Table Mountain area remarked how she and her neighbors are now scared to go for walks at night because of the transient activity nearby.
Harvey said his department had already received 342 calls in 2023 related to homelessness and had issued 87 citations and 27 trespass notices to unhoused individuals. Overall, he said, violent crime among unhoused individuals is low and most arrests are for warrants from other jurisdictions.
Regarding his department’s approach to addressing unhoused individuals, Harvey stated: “Putting them into the (judicial) system isn’t always the right response.”
Harvey and Vaine said continued enforcement and engagement is one way the city is responding to homelessness issues, but acknowledged that statistically unhoused individuals are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators.
“No one wants anyone to feel unsafe,” Vaine said. “ … It’s an emotional issue for just about everyone. We’re worrying about folks who are unhoused, and worrying about our own health and safety.”
Councilor Don Cameron specifically remarked on First United Methodist Church of Golden’s safe parking program, saying he didn’t want people to conflate the program with trespassing and other issues nearby.
He said Safe Parking is well-managed, giving up to 12 users a safe and legal place to park their working vehicles rather than driving around town and camping in various neighborhoods. It also creates a good opportunity for Horton and others to contact and assist them, he said.
For more information about Golden’s Thriving Communities services, including how to report issues or seek help, visit cityofgolden.net/live/homelessness.