According to human services providers in Denver – or at least those

According to human services providers in Denver – or at least those who spoke to the Associated Press for a recent article – more and more homeless people are moving to the Mile High City for legal marijuana. In fact, the director of Denver’s Salvation Army Crossroads Shelter tells the AP that his outfit has been forced to more than double its staff “to accommodate the increase” in homeless people flocking to Denver to get high.

As the AP story warns, “the influx [homeless centers in Denver] are seeing is straining their ability to meet the needs of the increasing population.”

“The older ones are coming for medical (marijuana), the younger ones are coming just because it’s legal,” Brett Van Sickle, director of Denver’s Salvation Army Crossroads Shelter, tells the AP. Van Sickle goes on to cite “an informal survey of the roughly 500 new out-of-towners who stayed [at the Crossroads Shelter] between July and September,” which apparently found that “as many as 30 percent had relocated for pot.”

Geez. That sounds like quite the trend. While the AP article makes clear in the fourth paragraph that “no state agency [in Colorado] records how many homeless people were drawn by legal weed,” and later that Denver’s “rising overall population could be a reason for an increase in the number homeless people,” these points are all but lost in the flood of anecdotal evidence provided. Take, for instance, the case of Chris Easterling, a man the AP reports was “sick of relying on drug dealers in Minneapolis when he needed marijuana to help ease the pain of multiple sclerosis,” who decided to move to Denver “where legal pot dispensaries are plentiful and accessible.”

“Many of the older men, like Easterling, live exclusively on disability benefits and use them to buy pot, since there’s nothing to stop someone from using welfare benefits to obtain cash to use at pot shops,” the AP reports. “‘I’m staying here,” [Easterling] said, between puffs on an electronic smoking device filled with pot oil. ‘This is my home.’”

Wow. That’s laying it on pretty thick.

Leaving questions about the assertions made in the AP’s story for another day (It’s clear service providers in Denver who spoke with the AP believe legal weed is attracting the homeless, and equally clear that there’s no way to know that for certain yet), what can be said at this point is homeless service providers in Seattle, where weed is just as legal, report no such influx. In fact, the full version of the AP story includes the disclaimer, “Shelters in Washington state haven’t experienced a noticeable influx since that state’s legal recreational sales started in July. Capt. Dana Libby, Seattle Social Services director for the Salvation Army, said the economy is largely to blame for the high rates of homelessness there.” Sadly, however, many news outlets, including Q13 locally, ran a much smaller version of the story that failed to include this tidbit.

Just to clear up any confusion, Seattle Weekly reached out to a long list of Seattle-area service providers and advocates, all of whom said the same thing.

“We have not experienced or seen anything that suggests the legalization of marijuana has had an impact on King County’s homeless population,” says Anand Balasubrahmanyan, a spokesperson for the Committee to End Homelessness in King County. “Similarly, we have heard no conjecture from local shelters that legalization has had an impact.”

The assertion was echoed by Katherine Jolly, a spokesperson for the City of Seattle’s Human Services Department. “We do not see any indication that Seattle homelessness is on the rise due to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” she says simply.

Others, like Real Change Founding Director Tim Harris, indicated that reporters from across the country have been making calls since the AP story dropped, but apparently haven’t been met with the kind of juicy pot-smoking-homeless stories that Denver was able to provide. “When this came out I got a call from CNN and others got media inquiries as well,” says Harris. “I haven’t heard anything to corroborate locally.”

“We haven’t [seen an influx],” says Union Gospel Mission spokesperson Sharon Thomas. “Already asked around because that reporter called us.”

What’s to make of all this? Bill Hobson, the longtime director of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Services Center, offered a theory.

“I would be wary of provider estimates coming out of Denver,” Hobson tells Seattle Weekly via email. “ We have been consulting with the City for the past year in their efforts to replicate two of DESC’s programs – the 1811 Eastlake project and our crisis diversion program. The Denver mayor, Mike Hancock, was here this past summer and asked me if our homeless providers were as opposed to legalization as most of the ones in Denver were. I hadn’t heard of any opposition and told him so. The [AP article] cites information from Denver’s Salvation Army and I would take what they say with a grain of salt. Salvation Army is the most hard-bitten, abstinence-driven organization serving homeless people in this country. Almost all of Denver’s shelters are operated by evangelical organizations.”

As the AP story indicates, Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Criminal Justice and Criminology Department is currently studying “issues related to legal marijuana, including any correlation between legal marijuana and rates of homelessness.” That’s probably a good thing, because it’s clear real data is what’s needed here. Currently, it seems, what we have amounts to little more than conjecture and clickbait.

Perhaps when those results become available we’ll know for certain who’s blowing smoke.