Denver, CO

Homeless people in Denver not marijuana tourists, official says

David Heitz
Photo byJeff W/Unsplash

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless spokeswoman Cathy Alderman said this week that “People are not moving to Colorado because we have 300 days of sunshine per year so they can live on the streets.”

Alderman shattered the common stereotype during remarks made as part of the Coalition’s online education series. “Marijuana tourism people may come for a couple of months, but they’re not engaging with outreach workers. It’s not fair to equate them with people experiencing homelessness.”

Alderman said she’s aware of the argument that Denver would not have a homeless problem if it weren’t so generous to homeless people. She pointed out the Coalition is all some people have to turn to for help when dealing with “personal barriers” such as mental illness, a family breakup, job loss, psychiatric disability, eviction, domestic violence, or substance abuse disorder. “These incidents alone are not enough to cause homelessness.”

Childhood trauma, jail cause homelessness

Alderman said many people experiencing homelessness encountered adverse childhood experiences and struggle with underlying issues. “The experience of homelessness itself is extremely traumatic as these things compound and it makes things much more difficult. We must address the underlying issues that led to them experiencing homelessness and how can we help them resolve it.”

Many people exit jail directly into homelessness, Alderman said. “The solution to homelessness will always be housing, but it’s not housing alone – health care, case management keeps people stably housed.”

‘Housing is healthcare’

Alderman repeated the Coalition refrain, “Housing is healthcare.” The Coalition houses people experiencing homelessness across 21 properties, including both affordable housing and supportive housing. They also manage housing vouchers for 4,310 households and contracted with hotels and motels during COVID to provide housing.

She pointed to Fusion Studios as an example where the Coalition created supportive housing in just six months by purchasing a hotel. She said people can expect to see more of that in the future.

Alderman discussed how housing people saves money. Chronically homeless people often bounce from emergency rooms to mental hospitals to jails and back on the street again. It costs taxpayers far more to provide these services than it does to house people, she said.

One program called SIPRA demonstrated great success for the Coalition. They took those people who frequent emergency rooms and mental hospitals and gave them housing. This resulted in a 50-70 percent reduction in arrests and 25 to 33 percent fewer ER visits.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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