By Gretchen Crowe
We often see the statistics of homeless veterans, and aside from an initial emotional cringe, it’s hard to really grasp what being a homeless vet means day-to-day for these individuals. But by narrowing our focus to one individual, Dennis Fee, we begin to unpeel the multi-faceted impact, especially how the lack of housing and isolation can affect them.
Dennis Fee has been vending the VOICE for six months in Boulder, CO. He represents approximately twenty active vendors in the Boulder metro area, including Longmont. “Being a Vendor and the opportunity to represent the VOICE, because of what it stands for, is a blessing to stand together for the homeless.”
Dennis is originally from White Bear Lake, Minn, not far from St. Paul. Having one older brother, and four younger sisters, his parents, Joe and Evelyn, happily raised their two adopted sons and their biological daughters. Born on December 12, 1954, Dennis was adopted at ten months. During high school, he noticed he wasn’t like other students, but his behaviors still remained a mystery to him until later in his life.
At 22, in the winter of 1977, he enlisted in the Navy, attending boot camp in San Diego, and having a seldom-visited home station of Alameda, Calif. He worked on the USS Wichita as a store keeper and janitor. He visited Japan, Hawaii and many Western seaboard cities, including Vancouver. During his three years in the Navy, Dennis was married for the first time, and after his enlistment, they moved back to Minnesota. In 1981, they parted ways. He worked odd jobs for several years—the worst being a shoe salesman—until September of 1984 when he began a twenty-seven year career in private security. He started by working in a bank lobby in a downtown St. Paul Skyway.
In 1987, he moved to Boulder County, continuing his career in private security, and met his second wife. However, this marriage was taxed and ended shortly thereafter in 1991 by what he called his mysterious behaviors—soon to have a name. For the first time he was diagnosed with OCD that was affecting his daily life. In high school, it manifested as contamination compulsions—widely recognized through movie stars—and these rituals continued. On and off they would affect his employment, depending on their severity. Most of his behaviors have manifested around checking door knobs, water faucets and sometimes light switches. Dennis began to battle depression, because of the “melancholy of knowing what I suffered from.” He tried various medications that never treated the OCD, just the depression. “Having a recent renewed faith in God has helped me immensely,” he said.
Dennis continued to work private security—occasionally changing employers for better money, and met another woman he was with for thirteen years. In July 2009, he lost his job due to his OCD and began the long process of applying for Social Security Disability, which still has not been accepted. The stress of these transitions led to the end of his relationship, and he became homeless in Boulder County—where he had lived and worked for almost three decades.
In his first few days homeless, he went into the Carriage House, Boulder’s amazing day shelter that also serves as a satellite distribution center for the VOICE. He saw a sign on the bulletin board, “Want To Be Your Own Boss?” and came into orientation. Dennis joined the prestigious 300 Club by selling over three-hundred papers in December alone. He wants to continue to develop his clientele and maintain this status in 300 Club. His long term goal is to work to get permanent housing and be in a place to healthily deal with his OCD.
“Some days it feels the whole world is against you, but I know I can survive anywhere now,” Dennis said. “I’ve met some special people in my six months being homeless. And I’ve had two miracles through it—one is my connection to God, and the other is actually positive, knowing better who I am.”•