How Well Do You Know Homelessness? (Quiz)

Research and Questions by Sonia Christensen

Much of what we think we know about homelessness is based on misinformation and stereotypes. Can you separate fact from fiction?

“Homeless” means someone is sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter.

False. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness includes:


  • Sleeping in places not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks, or abandoned or condemned buildings
  • Sleeping in an emergency shelter or safe haven
  • Living in transitional housing
  • Staying in a hotel or motel paid for by a voucher



The age group most commonly affected by homelessness in Denver is 25-34 years old.

False:  According to The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative’s 2015 Point-In-Time survey, the age group most commonly affected by homelessness in Denver County is 45-54 years old. Many people experiencing homelessness are over 60 years old.



A large percentage of the homeless population in Denver has been homeless less than one year.

True. About 50 percent report being homeless less than one year.


If a person is experiencing homelessness, it means they are also jobless.

False. 23 percent of respondents to the Denver PIT survey reported that their households received money from working in the month prior to the survey. 


The vast majority of those experiencing homelessness in Denver County are men.

False: Women make up almost one-third of the homeless population in Denver County.


Most people who identify as homeless sleep on the street.

False: 45 percent reported sleeping in transitional housing on the night of January 26th, 2015, while 37 percent reported sleeping in an emergency shelter. Only 16 percent reported sleeping on the street.


The most commonly cited contributing factor to homelessness in Denver County is alcohol or substance abuse problems.

False. The most commonly cited contributing factor is inability to pay rent or a mortgage. The second most commonly reported factor is a lost job or inability to find a job. 


Denver’s “camping ban” only forbids sleeping on public property.

False. Denver’s camping ban prohibits any temporary habitation on public or private property accompanied by the use of any form of shelter from the elements. Sleeping bags, bedrolls, blankets, or any form of cover or protection from the elements other than clothing are considered “temporary habitations.”


Laws that limit or ban panhandling exist in many cities across the United States.

True. In 2014, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) reported that 24 percent of U.S. cities made it a citywide crime to beg in public. 


Laws that attempt to ban panhandling have been struck down in several states.

True. Laws of this type have been struck down in Utah, Michigan, California, and even Colorado. In 2012 the ACLU sued Colorado Springs, challenging a 12-block no solicitation zone in the downtown area. The ban was judged a violation of the First Amendment and therefore was not put into effect. However, there are still limits on panhandling in many Colorado cities, particularly on aggressive panhandling. 


Domestic violence can be a contributing factor that leads to homelessness or housing instability.

True. 8.5 percent of respondents on MDHI’s Point-In-Time survey listed domestic violence as a contributing factor to their homelessness. In fact, according to the NLCHP, more than 90 percent of homeless women in 2014 were victims of severe physical or sexual abuse.


Mental illness is a contributing factor to homelessness in Denver County.

True. MDHI’s PIT survey shows 15.1 percent of those interviewed report mental illness as a reason they are now experiencing homelessness or housing instability. 


All shelter and transitional housing programs for people experiencing homelessness are free.

False. Though emergency shelter programs, such as the Denver Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Shelter, typically do not charge people seeking services, many transitional programs charge a fee, such as New Genesis, which charges $63 dollars a week for rent, requires clients to participate in the upkeep of the shelter, and to work.


Households with children account for five percent of those who report experiencing homelessness.

False. Households with children make up 47.8 percent of those experiencing homelessness in the Denver metro area, according to the PIT survey.


Denver is changing its approach toward eradicating homelessness. 

True. In 2005 the city set a goal to end homelessness by 2015. That program, Denver’s Road Home’s Ten Year Plan, has been largely deemed unsuccessful. The city is now moving toward a goal of reaching “functional zero,” a term that describes the point at which the availability of resources exceeds the need, rather than ending homelessness altogether. ■