Text & Photograph by Gretchen Crowe
We all know the phrase that we’re all about a month or two away from being homeless, but how many of us know someone where that has become a reality?
Dave Atencio knows this concept very well. “I never thought it could ever happen to me, but it did,” he says. For a quiet man who never expected this path, he has become quite the icon and public face of homelessness. He has been interviewed by 9 News twice, both on dealing with the extreme cold in February and on his experience as a vendor for the Denver VOICE in an upcoming story. Ironically, he never uses the word, “homeless,” in his pitch as he vends the paper.
Dave, a Denver native, was laid off in August and became homeless at the end of September. He has been staying at the Rescue Mission since. When asked if he had ever had to sleep outside, he said he was thankful that he hadn’t. Every morning he gets in the lottery for a bed, and his luck has prevailed. Dave is currently looking for full-time employment, and looks forward to reclaiming his previous life, working and living in his own place. He vends six days per week at 16th and California from around 7:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. “I don’t care what anybody says, vending the VOICE is hard work,” he says “I’m out doing, and I just meet fantastic people.”
He was raised by his beloved mother, Vina Atencio, who cleaned houses in (what he remembers as) Wash Park for a living. His father passed away from an auto accident when Dave was a toddler; Dave was an only child. He attended Swansea Elementary, right by the Purina factory off Highway 70. He got his GED at the beginning of his junior year at North High School, and left because he was eager to begin working. He joined the Marines and was trained as a tunnel rat; however, the Vietnam war had ended and he served his four years in San Diego. “I was a Hollywood Marine. People always ask me about the military, but I don’t like to say much about it. I’m just Dave,” he says.
In fact, Dave’s work history reads like a perfect resume. When Dave returned to Denver, he was a “suit” and worked downtown at United Bank Servicing, a company that processed checks. He worked for ten years, consistently being promoted. During that time Dave had started a family. When Norwest bought the company, he was one of the many layoffs. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for him to get another job; he found a position at Dataplex as the microfilm darkroom processor. Dave stayed in that position for nine-and-a-half years, and laughed as he recalled one funny day at work. His shirt had gotten caught in the processor and pulled him tight into it, the alarms and lights began to go off and his fellow employees rushed in to cut him free. He wasn’t hurt, but it served as a good laugh.
When Dave left Dataplex, he temped for a bit, and then began working at the front desk at the Royal Host Motel at Ogden and Colfax. It seemed an uneventful job—aside from the daily Colfax shenanigans—and he worked there for five years, until it burned down. Dave was very quick to say that no one was hurt. After the hotel shutdown, Dave ran the maintenance and grounds keeping at an apartment building in Englewood. Dave stayed there until August of 2010, when he was laid off and was unable to find another job in time to avoid losing his home, bringing us to now.
“The VOICE has put me in a great situation. I was able to save money and give something during the holiday to the kids,” Dave said, “I would really like a full-time position as a groundskeeper or maintenance-man again. I don’t want to have to ask, ‘now what do I do?’ anymore. All I can say is thank you to the VOICE. It’s been great to me. It’s a job, and I get to smile, always greet people and be courteous, just like my mom…she was strict and hard-working, but always smiling.” •