Chronic houselessness is higher in Grand Junction than rest of US, says survey

Whitman Park
Whitman Park((KKCO/KJCT))
Published: Mar. 12, 2023 at 2:33 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) - In 2022, the City of Grand Junction’s Housing Division embarked on a project aimed at addressing the growing issue of houselessness in the area.

The project involved developing a survey to gather data directly from People Experiencing Houselessness to understand the barriers and gateways for homeless people in Grand Junction.

The approach recognizes that the issue is not solely caused by individual factors, but rather a combination of social, economic, and structural factors that contribute to the problem.

The impetus for the survey emerged from conversations with local service providers for PEH, first responders and business owners, who all observed the growing rate of the unhoused population in Grand Junction and felt a strain on their day-to-day activities as a result.

To develop the survey, feedback was gathered from partners like the Mesa County Public Health Research & Planning Team and Colorado Mesa University Sociology Professor Stephen Merino.

The 40-question survey was conducted in December 2022 with the support of trained volunteers, and over 70 surveys were completed and returned to the City of Grand Junction Housing Division in a two-week period.

The survey results show that Grand Junction’s chronically houseless population is proportionally much higher than the average across Colorado and the United States.

Nationally, individuals experiencing chronic houselessness make up only 27% of the total population of PEH. However, 61% of this survey’s respondents were identified as chronically houseless, and 70% of individuals were defined as chronically houseless in the 2021 PIT count. The PIT count refers to the measurement used to track increases and decreases in the number of PEH in a given community.

The chronically houseless population in Grand Junction has also nearly tripled between the last two complete PIT counts – numbers that “are wholly unprecedented across the recent histories of Colorado’s largest cities.”

The survey results found that there are multiple points in the “houselessness system” where the community can intervene with solutions. The system includes inflow, crisis response, and outflow, and a systems approach to solving houselessness involves creating solutions that intervene at all three stages simultaneously.

However, the survey also highlighted that more information and data are needed to create effective policy solutions.

While the survey was a starting point, it only provided a snapshot and didn’t help the community understand the financial investments or the numerical quantity of resources needed to support the houseless population efficiently.

To answer these questions and more, the City of Grand Junction Housing Division has proposed a more comprehensive “Unhoused Needs Assessment.”

This assessment will help the City arrive at answers to questions such as how many low-barrier emergency shelters should be created, how many case managers and social workers are required to serve the population with behavioral health needs, and what service improvements can be made and scaled.

The data obtained from the assessment will help the City formulate big-picture strategies with the goal of transforming houselessness into a brief and rare occurrence in the community.

By addressing the “houselessness system” at all stages and with the help of comprehensive data, the City can make significant progress toward ending houselessness in the community.