The health and wellbeing of all people in our community is the top priority of both Jefferson County Human Services (JCHS) and Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH). As the Denver Metro area has grown in the last decade, the cost of living and housing has risen, and more people in the county are experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. Both departments, along with many organizations throughout the community, are joining together to better understand the impact of homelessness in our community and identify ways to best serve community members who are experiencing homelessness.
A major step toward fulfilling these goals is the August 2019 Comprehensive Count, led by Jefferson County and the cities of Arvada, Edgewater, Golden, Lakewood, Westminster, and Wheat Ridge; and supported by numerous service providers and municipal partners. During August, partners and service providers around the county will conduct surveys with their homeless clients. Then, from August 19-23, volunteers will conduct a county-wide, week-long street outreach survey.
“One of the biggest challenges we face in providing services to our homeless community is understanding the scope and demographics of this population, and what that means for the realities they face,” said Kat Douglas, Community and Workforce Development Director with JCHS. “For example, homeless families and individuals have different needs. We need to get a good grasp of what our population looks like so we can best serve them, which in turn better serves our whole community”
In the past, agencies like JCHS and JCPH have relied on data sources like the regional Point in Time surveys or data collected by Jeffco Public Schools to provide rough estimates of the homeless population. The Point in Time survey, though, only collects data on those who are living outdoors or in emergency shelters on one given day each year. According to this survey, in 2018, 577 people in Jefferson County were experiencing homelessness. Nearly 40% were living unsheltered, almost 15% more than the percentage for the entire metro area, because Jefferson County lacks a homeless shelter or centralized services.
According to data collected by Jefferson County Public Schools, there were 2,733 students experiencing homelessness during the 2015-2016 school year. While still not perfect, this number hits closer to reality, as it also counts students who are living doubled-up (more than one family per home out of necessity). However, this statistic only counts students, so it can only gauge the number of children and families with school-aged children experiencing homelessness.
“In addition to collecting better data, the Comprehensive Count is an opportunity to engage with homeless families and individuals around resources available in Jefferson County,” said Annie Nolan, Public Health Nurse Supervisor at JCPH. “For example, there is currently a hepatitis A outbreak affecting homeless individuals in counties across the Front Range, and this is a chance to connect them with vaccinations and care.”
During the on-the-ground efforts, JCPH staff will be speaking with individuals and distributing flyers about an upcoming hepatitis A vaccination clinic, scheduled for 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Aug. 27, 2019 at The Action Center, 8745 W. 14th Avenue in Lakewood. JCPH will also offer hepatitis A vaccinations by appointment during regularly scheduled clinic hours at its Lakewood location, 645 Parfet Street. To make an appointment, call 303-239-7078.
“People who are experiencing homelessness face unique health challenges and risks,” Nolan said. “We have to evolve as our community does. That’s why participating in this event and learning more about homelessness in Jefferson County is so important.”
At JCHS, we deliver a variety of financial assistance programs to eligible, low-income Colorado residents while also administering state and federal funds for a variety of homeless, housing, economic development and infrastructure improvement initiatives, to strengthen families and help them to self-sufficiency. All projects are managed and coordinated with a wide array of partners throughout the county, including private businesses, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations and other local government entities.
“Our goal is that all our partners can use this data to meet the needs of the children, families, single individuals, seniors, people with disabilities, and everyone who may be experiencing homelessness in Jeffco,” Douglas said. “Both JCHS and JCPH are committed to prioritizing this work. We look forward to speaking with our homeless community face-to-face and learning how we can better help them in the future.”
To learn more about the Comprehensive Count, including how to get involved, please visit www.headinghomejeffco.com/get_involved.
About Jefferson County Human Services
Through early childhood education, adult and child protection, job training, food assistance, Medicaid, and other programs, Human Services helps people build better, safer lives. To learn more about JCHS, visit www.jeffco.us/human-services. Follow JCHS on Facebook @jeffcohumansvcs, Twitter @jeffcohumansvcs, and Instagram @jeffcohumansvcs.
About Jefferson County Public Health
Public health is what we as a society do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is a nationally accredited health department committed to promoting and protecting health across the lifespan for all people through prevention, education and partnerships. To learn more about JCPH, visit https://www.jeffco.us/public-health. You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH, Instagram @JeffcoPH and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth.