By Sarah Harvey
Lando Allen describes himself as a man of God, a nice guy, and a little bit of a loner. And though he has a soft voice and gentle demeanor, it’s not uncommon for Lando to break into song at the Denver VOICE office.
A California native, Lando moved to Milwaukee when he was 12. As the middle child of five, he was often the odd man out, even though he had a big family.
“I was always alone,” said Lando. “I was alone, trust me.”
Music has always been important to Lando. When he was in junior high in the early ‘80s, he was a “beat boy,” into breakdancing and hip-hop. But Lando didn’t love everything about the hip-hop crowd. Some of the kids he hung out with in those days would get into more trouble than he was comfortable with.
By high school, Lando had found a new passion: heavy metal. “I took a U-turn,” said Lando. Metallica and Megadeth were two of his favorite bands. Lando was even the lead singer of a metal band when he was in high school. His look changed along with his taste in music: by the late ‘80s, he was sporting a bleached blonde flat top with a long blonde tail in the back.
Lando worked during high school, often as a dishwasher. “I was never a kid,” he said, “I was always a grownup.”
That exposure to a professional kitchen got Lando thinking about a career as a chef. In 1987, 17-year-old Lando left high school to participate in a Job Corps program for culinary arts. But after six months, he quit the program and returned to his traditional high school in Milwaukee.
Immediately after high school, Lando got a job with ACE/CO molding machines for Chrysler—but it didn’t last long. Pretty soon Lando found himself back in a kitchen. He was still interested in cooking, and ended up enrolling in a culinary arts program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He went to school off and on, sometimes taking breaks to work. “It’s kind of hard when you’re on your own,” he explained.
Lando first experienced homelessness in 1997, after a relationship ended. “I got depressed from losing my kid,” said Lando.
In addition to the depression, it became more and more difficult for him to find work. He moved to Atlanta because he thought he’d be able to stay with a cousin there for a while. But Lando’s cousin wasn’t willing to help him, so he had to go to an overnight shelter.
After that, Lando “just kept traveling” for a while. He went from Atlanta to Tampa, and then back up to Minnesota. At one point, Lando walked from Atlanta to Macon, Georgia, and later from Green Bay to Milwaukee. He tried Iowa for a bit, and then went back to Florida. He spent some time in Colorado in 2003, and then returned in 2009.
“Most of the time I was homeless,” said Lando, though he did have a place for three years straight once, in Green Bay.
Lando feels like depression is probably the largest single factor keeping him in a cycle of homelessness. Treatment for depression has never been very effective for him, though.
“I tried it, but I don’t like taking medicine,” said Lando.
In 2009, Lando came back to Denver and found the VOICE. He was introduced to the paper and the program by another vendor.
“The same day I started, I made $60,” Lando remembered. He likes that he can be his own boss while selling the VOICE.
Lando currently lives in his car, and he uses the money he makes vending papers to pay for gas, food, haircuts, car insurance, and child support.
Lando has big dreams of buying a house someday, and maybe recording an album. But he also has more immediate goals that he’s checking off, such as buying a car and a trailer.
“I’m going to use it as a stepping-stone,” Lando says of his job as a VOICE vendor. ■