Rocky Mountain High: Legal Pot Blamed for Increase in Denver Homeless

Colorado’s recent legalization of recreational pot use is being blamed for causing a significant increase in Denver’s homeless population.

The increase in Denver’s homeless population isn’t an across the board increase among all demographics either. Yahoo News tells us that Denver area homeless shelters are noticing a specific increase in the amount of young people from out of town that are showing up in Denver, often penniless and in need of shelter.

Yahoo News goes on to tell us that, according to Murray Flagg, divisional social services secretary for the Salvation Army’s Intermountain Division, the Salvation Army’s Denver single men’s shelter has noted an increase in the number of 18 to 25 year olds among its population. Furthermore, the shelter housed 225 people on average per night last summer and has increased to housing an average of 300 people per night this summer.

Mr. Flagg explained that, according to an informal survey conducted at the shelter, about a quarter of the shelter’s population said they came to the Denver area because of marijuana, including people who have moved to the area to find work in the marijuana industry. Kendall Rames, deputy director of Urban Peak (a non-profit organization that provides food, shelter, and other services to young people in both Denver and Colorado Springs), told The Denver Post that “[o]f the new kids we’re seeing, the majority are saying they’re here because of the weed. They’re traveling through. It is very unfortunate.”

Additionally, Father Woody’s Haven of Hope has also seen a marked increase in its population of homeless youth. The shelter serves homeless individuals ages 18 and older. The Denver Post tells us that Father Woody’s director, Melinda Paterson, stated that the number of homeless seeking shelter with her organization typically rises by about 50 people per month during the summer. This summer, Director Paterson has seen an increase of 923 people over the last three months, or more than 300 new homeless per month.

Despite the significant increase in the number of homeless seeking shelter at Father Woody’s, Director Paterson is not so quick to blame Colorado’s new marijuana law. Paterson told The Denver Post that “[w]e have had an influx, and the majority of them have been from out of town. I have no idea if the marijuana law has had an impact.”

There seems to be a consensus among Denver area shelters that the number of young homeless are increasing, but could it be due to some other factor than Colorado’s legalization of marijuana? Tom Lehrs, executive director of St. Francis Center (a daytime homeless shelter), told The Denver Post that his numbers show marijuana use trails behind looking for work as the primary reason people are seeking help at his organization. In reference to the homeless seeking shelter at his location, Lehrs states that, “The economy is not supporting them. There are not enough jobs.”

Marijuana industry business is good in Denver.
Marijuana industry business is good in Denver.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. unemployment rate for June of this year was 6.1 percent. However, if we take a closer look, the U.S. unemployment rate for individuals ages between 20 and 24 was 10.5 percent, and the unemployment rate for individuals ages between 18 and 19 was a staggering 19.3 percent for the same time period.

Conversely, Bureau of Labor Statistics also shows us that the unemployment rate for the Denver area for May of this year (June is not yet reporting) was a healthy 5.3 percent. The Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation also tells us that Colorado ranked among the top 10 states for employment growth in 2013 and its job growth rate of 2.6 percent was a full percentage point above the national average. The Inquisitr further examines the potential economic opportunity resulting from Marijuana legalization.

The grass is greener in Colorado.
The grass is greener in Colorado.

Herein may lie the answer to the question at hand. Could it be that Colorado’s (and more locally, Denver’s) economic recovery, boosted in part by the newly legalized pot-economy, is what has led to Denver’s influx in young homeless individuals? Perhaps on a smaller scale, it’s a modern day “Grapes of Wrath” situation? It appears that Denver is the newest site in a migration pattern where young people from around the country are journeying to a place where they feel the grass is greener.