Feature: Suburban homeless (the travel trap)

Published December 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 11

text and images by D. Giles Clasen

For a Minnesota country-man, coming to Colorado meant becoming homeless, and inching ominously closer to the city every day.

Terri Schweppe does not belong in a city. His handlebar mustache, black cowboy hat and duster expresses clearly that he is a man more comfortable in a small town than downtown.

When he moved to Denver, it was a move full of both tragedy and hope.  He drove his unreliable van from Minneapolis, across the barren cornfields of the Midwest, to Colorado’s Front Range expecting to find open air and a job.

But Schweppe didn’t find the sanctuary he expected. Instead, he quickly became homeless.

It is one more setback for Schweppe, who moved after his identical twin, Larry Schweppe, died of a stroke in April. “I have been a little lost without him,” Schweppe admits.  “He was my compass.  I sometimes feel like when he died I lost my identity.  Now I have lost everything.”

The two had been roommates and best friends. Schweppe continues to carry Larry’s birth and death certificates.  He handles them gently and with great reverence when he shows them.  He pulls out his brother’s Minnesota driver’s license.  

"I only know how to do two things. I know how to work with the dirt and I now how to cook. I work hard and I’m honest. Those qualities don’t amount to much when you are trying to get a job.” — Terri Schweppe

Read More

Feature: Man in the van

Published December 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 11

by Dwayne Pride

Undeterred by the loss of a job, Oregonian Aaron Heideman turns his van into a home to canvas America.

Artprize is a national contest for fine artists and emerging artists from all around the world. It is said to be one of the largest prizes that an artist can hope to win to get recognized for his or her craft. All of the winners are chosen by the public. The top prize is $250,000. For most, when they think of somebody that would be part of a contest like this they would not think of a poor man,  a homeless man, as one of its participants. Artist/ driver Aaron Heideman aka “The Man in the Van” proves this theory wrong.

“I don’t want to panhandle,” reiterates Aaron Heideman.

After losing jobs during the recession his life was more than just a struggle. He hit rock bottom. But he took a creative angle on his situation and found some freedom from a 9 to 5 with a road trip that would eventually take him through at least 30 States in America. His mission: to make an enormous tapestry of people’s experience of the recession. State by state, city by city, he collected words.

His project started out in Medford, which he calls home. Driving through places like Portland, Fresno, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver, he met all types of people and had them share their experiences from a sagging economy and what it has done to their lives.

People wrote their individual stories on rolls of 50-foot waterproof, tear-proof white tyvek paper.  All he asked them was,  “How has the recession affected you?”

“There is No Recession”

Read More

Art Feature: Sterling Crispin

Published December 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 11

interview by Travis Egedy

Twenty-three-year-old Sterling Crispin is one of Denver’s most unique and exciting up and coming artists. Primarily working in video and digitally manipulated photography, his work explores many ideas on society’s current entanglement with technology and where we are headed as both biological and artificial organisms in the future.  A graduate of Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design fine arts department, and a current artist in residence at Redline Studios, Crispin is part of a loose-knit group of radical young artists who are interested in pushing the Denver art community forward into a new era. These young artists are part of a new avant-garde for the recession generation, working with found materials, holding art shows in converted warehouses and critiquing the status of art in both Denver and the world.  I was able to sit down with Sterling to eat some burritos, pet a cat and discuss the inevitable fusion of man and machine.

Read More

News Briefs: Growing hungry

Published December 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 11

Fifty million people struggled for food in 2008, or one out of every six people according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This included 16.7 million children. Among household types, several stood out at rates above the national average of 14.6 percent. Families living below the poverty line had a 42 percent rate of food insecurity; single mother households had 37.2 percent; and Hispanic households and Black households had just over a 25 percent rate of food insecurity. Food security has only been tracked since 1995, when rates were around 10.3 percent and had a slow rise to 11.1 percent by 2007. They have spiked in the last year.  As households struggle with the effects of the recession, those who experience hunger are expected to continue to rise. Colorado’s rate was 11.6 percent. The state with the lowest rate was South Dakota at 6.9 percent and the highest was Mississippi at 17.4 percent. 

News Briefs: Child poverty on the rise at an alarming rate

Published December 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 11

The rate of children living in poverty in Colorado is on the rise. According to a recent report from the Colorado Children’s Campaign, in 2000 there were an estimated 104,214 children living in poverty and by 2007 the number had increased by 84 percent to 191,725.  A large portion of these children are concentrated in the Front Range with more than 37,000 in Denver County and more than 25,500 in Adams County and  25,500 in Arapahoe County. The fastest growth in child poverty is in the Denver metro area while rural counties endure high rates of persistent poverty.

Local Buzz: Shelters feel the freeze

Published December 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 11

by Amelia Patterson

October 1st marked the beginning of Denver’s Cold Weather Plan for homeless emergency shelter, but it didn’t come off without a hitch.

While the homeless population has increased by 40 percent in Denver, the city has less shelter beds to go around than in previous years.  In August, the Salvation Army’s Crossroads shelter closed so it could be turned into transitional housing, thus reducing shelter beds by 100. The Salvation Army agreed to reopen the shelter in cold weather emergencies when the temperature drops below 40 degrees and all other emergency shelters are full.

Sign outside Denver Rescue Mission (FILE PHOTO)

“When I heard that Crossroads was not going to be providing service it had me very concerned, and it still has me very concerned.” Says Brad Meuli, president of the Denver Rescue Mission that shelters up to 300 men every night.

“We do not want anyone sleeping outside this winter that does not want to,” said Jamie Van Leeuwen of Denver’s Road Home in an interview in early October announcing this year’s Cold Weather Plan.

But the plan stumbled off the ground. On October 14 Meuli stated in an email to Katie Symons, the outreach coordinator for Denver’s Road Home:

“Something happened that has never happened at the Denver Rescue Mission before, we filled up our 300 beds and cots and had to turn away 72 people! We have never had to turn away that many people before….I know that there will be glitches as we work through our response to the lack of shelter beds created by Salvation Army’s change in Crossroads, but the simple fact is that we need the Emergency Shelter to be open when the Denver Rescue Mission and the Samaritan House are full regardless of the temperature.”

Over the last two years Denver’s homeless population has dramatically increased. In 2007 there were 3,954 people experiencing homelessness and in January 2009 service providers counted 6,656, and nearly a year later it is expected to be at least 20 percent higher. On any given night there are approximately 650 emergency shelter beds in Denver, and when the mercury dips below 40 degrees between October and May nearly 200 additional beds are made available.

The evening that the Rescue Mission had to turn away 72 people seems to be the exception. Temperatures in October were cold enough to open the Crossroads shelter 16 out of 31 days. But on other nights the Rescue Mission has operated below capacity.

“On warmer nights we are not at capacity and I am frankly shocked,” said Meuli. “More people must be staying outside. You and I both know there are more people out there than a year ago. We are bracing up to be a really tough winter and that Crossroads will be open a lot.”

According to Symons there are no current plans to bring on additional shelters at this time. Rather, they are looking forward to additional housing units to come on line in 2010, including 200 units of transitional housing from the Salvation Army and more housing in the pipeline from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Denver Housing Authority. The idea is to transition people out of emergency shelters and into housing rather than building more shelters.