You probably have a pretty good idea of where to donate clothing and furniture—but what do you do with the rest of your junk? Denver is full of nonprofits upcycling everything from office supplies to old paint to karaoke machines. Use this guide to help you figure out how to give a new life to practically everything cluttering up your closets.Read More
By Evan Vann
The city of Grand Junction has organized a Traveler's Aid Fund to ease the city’s homelessness problem.
Officer David Keech of the GJPD Community Resource Unit said that the goal of the fund is to provide assistance to homeless individuals who find themselves stranded in the Grand Junction area. The fund helps an individual buy a bus ticket out of town to a destination where he or she can receive further help. The program received a $2,000 donation from the city as seed money, but is otherwise funded solely on donations from individuals and businesses in the community.Read More
The Hard Times Writing Workshop is a collaboration between Denver Public Library and Lighthouse Writers Workshop. The workshop is open to all members of the public—especially those experiencing homelessness. Each month, the Denver VOICE will publish a selection of the voices of Hard Times.Read More
This column shares the thoughts and opinions of the diverse group of people who make up the Denver VOICE vendor pool. Have a question for VOICE vendors? Help us continue the dialogue by submitting your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the biggest misconception about homelessness?
The biggest misconception is that homeless people are lazy, shiftless, no good, and no-count. That “these people” have never had anything in life, they don’t want anything, and they will never contribute anything worth mentioning. That they are a bunch of alcoholics and drug addicts. And most of all, that they wish to be homeless.
That people are homeless because they are lazy or on dope.
I think the biggest misconception of homelessness is that they are lazy. People don’t know that many homeless are unable to work due to an illness or handicap.
Not all homeless are mentally ill or drug addicts! My feeling is—regardless of why you are homeless—once you have hit rock bottom, no one really wants to help. Some of us didn’t have family to help us out there on the road of life. ■
By Sarah Harvey, Managing Editor
In your hands you are holding all the information you need to become a community superhero.
I don’t know a lot about superheroes, so to help prepare for this issue I consulted some experts: my niece and nephews, ages six, eight, and nine. I asked them about the qualities a person needed to have to be considered a superhero. The general consensus was that superheroes have exceptional abilities and powers, and/or they save people.Read More
I go to an outreach at Dry Bones. The volunteers there provide food and bus passes for youth at risk, and also help me purchase my bus passes for half price. It is a great program.Read More
A vacant lot at 38th and Walnut Streets is slated to become Denver's first tiny home community.
By Sonia Christensen
If all goes according to plan, Denver will see two new temporary tiny house villages built in 2017—both intended to provide an alternative type of shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The first, called Beloved Community Village and organized in part by Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, will be constructed in late March or early April and will only take 1-2 days to complete. The second one, which is being planned by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, could be operational by this summer.
Beloved Community Village is the collaborative effort of several partners: Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL), Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Alternative Solutions Advocacy Project, Bayaud Enterprises, Radian, Inc., the Buck Foundation, and Beloved Community Mennonite Church. The group plans to build 11 tiny houses and one larger, yurt-like circHouse to serve as a community building.
Beloved will be built on land that is already targeted to be developed at some point for low-income housing. The village will exist on this plot of land for no more than 180 days and then it will be taken down and relocated to another plot of land. Interfaith is currently looking at six other possible future locations. The first location will be on approximately 26,000 square feet at 3733 Walnut St.
Nathan Hunt, program director of economic justice at Interfaith, said the RINO BID board voted to support the project with the understanding that Beloved Community Village will develop a “good neighbor agreement” in partnership with them, which the village organizers are now working on. Hunt also said the Cole neighborhood board gave a warm reception to the idea.
According to the proposal that Interfaith and its partners presented to the city in January, those organizing the village will seek individuals experiencing homelessness who may not feel a traditional shelter is an option. For example, they list LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and people working non-traditional hours.
“I think any philosophy for a social program needs to be designed for humans. Humans are complex and a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work,” said Hunt.
DHOL will select the 11-22 residents of the village and provide support with village governance, though the residents will be responsible for creating their own community agreement. According to Hunt, “DHOL have really been the leaders on this. They’ve been pushing for something like this but they’ve had trouble getting a plot of land.”
The land they have found, along with their partners, currently belongs to the Urban Land Conservancy and will be leased by Beloved Community Mennonite Church. In addition, Bayaud Enterprises will provide laundry services with a mobile laundry truck and Denver Food Rescue will provide fresh foods and access to food stamps.
Evan Dreyer, deputy chief of staff at the Mayor’s Office, expressed support for Beloved Community Village, saying that the mayor is committed and open to all possible solutions to address homelessness and affordable housing. He also commented on the unique obstacles facing a new project like this: “The challenge and opportunity is that it’s a new project and as with anything new it requires more of a heavy lift. We just want to help the proponents get it done and get it done well.”
According to Ally Dodge, community correspondent for the St. Andrews tiny house village (Denver’s second proposed tiny house community), the church actually has plans to build a more permanent project on the lot adjacent to their church in the future, but this village is something they can get started on while they wait for all the pieces of that larger project to come together. “This is something we can do now,” she said. “We can immediately have an impact.”
St. Andrews plans to construct eight tiny homes, as well as a shared kitchen space and a shared restroom and shower area, the funds for which they anticipate getting mostly through grants. Like Beloved Community, St. Andrew’s tiny house program will operate in partnership with several other nonprofits and organization. One of those is the Delores Project, a shelter that provides services for unaccompanied women and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness. The Delores Project will select the residents that will live in the tiny house village and will also offer support in helping those individuals move on to more permanent situations. According to Dodge, the village is not meant to provide long-term housing, and though they will not kick anyone out who has not found permanent housing, they expect that residents will move on within three to six months. “It may take longer,” she said, “But we’re just going to get in there and try and see what happens.”
The Delores Project will also offer support in forming the set of rules that the residents will live by, though it will technically be up to the residents themselves to create a code of conduct.
Dodge said the church is very enthusiastic about the tiny house village. However, there has been pushback from the neighborhood. “We’ve had a lot of people voice comments, questions, and concerns, as one would imagine. Initially I think that a lot of gossip, rumor, and innuendo get circulated and we’ve had to dispel a lot of mythology of what we were trying to accomplish. We’ve been very open to questions and concerns and we’ve been trying to address them individually as they come up. There were a lot of questions about sanitation, there were questions about how would we run electricity and water and those are all questions that are incredibly valid that we’ve been working through with the city.”
One of the largest misconceptions that Dodge said the church faced in organizing this project was the image that many people had in their minds about who would be staying at the shelter. “To many folks, the face of the homeless is the dirty man in rags, someone who is on drugs or drinking, or mentally ill, people sleeping on the ground or on a park bench,” wrote Dodge in an email. “They don’t see the woman who fears for her safety at night, who has skills to get a job if she could catch a break, who is motivated and actively seeking resources to get herself out of her predicament.” Dodge and St. Andrew’s made efforts to educate neighbors on the many faces of homelessness in Denver. “When we tell people that part of the benefit of getting into the village is having an address so they can get a job, people are kind of surprised,” said Dodge. “That thought never occurred to them.”
According to Dodge the city has been generally supportive of the plan, but because there are not a lot of rules in place for temporary structures like this, current rules and regulations will have to be modified in order for the project to move ahead. St. Andrews expects that to be a three- to six-month process. If all goes according to plan, construction could be underway in May. ■
By Claire Martin
Todd Burton, who died June 20, 2016, was a familiar sight at the corner of California and 20th streets, seated on his bag and flying a sign that said “SMILE!” Sometimes he played a guitar.
Denver Public Library’s community resource specialists are trained social workers who can help people with everything from applying for food stamps to dealing with trauma.
By Matthew Van Deventer | Photos by Stanley Sigalov
By Ross Evertson
Not hyperbole: A modest storefront on Champa and Park Ave. houses the heart of the Denver VOICE—our distribution office—where every weekday morning dozens of vendors converge to purchase their papers.
Frequent readers will be familiar with the Vendor Profile section on page three. It is written by Gretchen Crowe, the Vendor Program Director, as it has been since she started some two years ago. No one at our organization knows these people better.
As the Art Director, I find myself working a few blocks away and fourteen stories up, in an office with beige walls and tinted windows that have not and will not ever open. It’s a logistical thing, this separation. Putting together the paper and managing the organization (thankfully not my job) requires a kind of quiet that you can only get in a modern office cave.
It is, as you might imagine, a joy to occasionally find myself street level, in a much less sterile business environment. Make no mistake, though, it is still indeed a business environment—hour long training sessions, guest lectures delivered by everyone from sales specialists to the police. One of the surprisingly great things about the Denver VOICE as a jobs program is that the level of involvement is almost entirely up to the individual. Follow the rules and you’re in for good. But if you apply yourself and take advantage of the knowledge and skills the staff and your peers have to share? It is almost unavoidable at that point to not become one of the more successful vendors.
In that sense, visiting the distribution office is walking into a microcosm, a petri dish of professional growth. Most of our vendors wear their personalities on their sleeves, their personal and professional wants and desires are right there to parse, not hidden privately in hopes of some ladder climbing political advantage. It makes for a very telling and often tender community.
Most of these photographs are from our 2010 vendor holiday party, which—as you might imagine—is one of the more obvious examples of said community. It doesn’t have to be, and rarely is, so blatant. On a quiet Wednesday morning you will find two or three long-time vendors coaching a mutual friend that they finally convinced to sign-up; they talk about the best places to vend, their most effective sales pitches.
It is in witnessing those moments, eavesdropping on questions and comments during orientation sessions, that it becomes incredibly clear to me why we do what we do; why every month the editor Tim Covi and I put together this little twenty-page magazine. Why our Executive Director, Amelia Patterson let’s the pressure and responsibilities of running the organization pile on as she plows through. Why Gretchen Crowe and Amanda Keller (our Vendor Program Coordinator) lug tons of papers all over downtown every week. Why Rick Barnes and the rest of our board put their spare time into making sure this boat keeps floating.
It is simply because it is worth it—it is absolutely worth it. We all get breaks in our lives, good and bad. The Denver VOICE has allowed me to work with amazing people on an amazing project that is in and of itself a break for the homeless and impoverished community in our city. If you have time after the holidays, I urge you to look us up and volunteer. We can always use the help, of course, but I can honestly say the perspective, insight and understanding that comes with working with us, our vendors and within this community are rare and wonderful things. •
By Margo Pierce
The American myth of individualism tells people who are struggling with addiction, abuse, mental illness or poverty to simply pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. In reality, specially designed services and other kinds of support are essential to the process of transformation. This column is the fourth in an occasional series that will explore what it takes to Forget the Bootstraps in order to live a better life; it focuses on alcoholism and the struggle to overcome addiction.
The first time I remember taking a drink was when I was about 12 or 13 and I got a little glass of Morgan David wine at Thanksgiving to have a toast. And it was the most magical moment I’d ever had in my life. When I took that drink, it hit the back of my throat, it went down and it was like a bomb exploding inside me and it was just this warm rush feeling. What I remember from that—and it seems like it was just yesterday—for the first time in my life I felt OK. I just felt OK. I don’t know another word to describe it. Everything just went whhhhheeeeww.
For the next 11 years I chased that high. That’s all I ever wanted. I always wanted to feel like that, and when I wasn’t doing it I was thinking about it, planning on how I was gonna get it. I don’t know how fast it progressed or anything else, it’s kind of hard to remember.
Michael (not his real name) looks off into the distance as he talks about being a “sober drunk” for 32 years. His voice is even, calm but not devoid of emotion. With smiles and laughter, he describes his childhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, as “typical middle class.”
Alcohol—at least for people like me that I know—sets up this craving… I don’t know how to describe it unless you’ve experienced it. People talk about it as being a lack of willpower. The line about willpower: The line about willpower is, “The next time you have a bad case of diarrhea, just use a little willpower on it and see how far it gets ya.” You’ll end up with a runny leg. It’s just not that simple.
I think it’s critical for anyone dealing with alcoholism that they are entitled to—if I can use that word—be told what their problem is. And I don’t just mean somebody yellin’ and screamin’ at ’em and sayin’ “You’re a drunk and you better sober up.” I’m talking about professional people telling them, “You have alcoholism. This is what it’s doing to you. This is the only solution and this is what we think you ought to do.” And help you starting some kind of plan to get sober.
He says what it takes to get sober is different for each person. He describes the intervention he participated in with his mother. Michael was 10-years sober at the time.
We had mom in the room. It was me and my brother and two sisters and this professional lady. I knew Mom was in trouble because my little sister had called me and told me what was going on. We were hitting Mom with everything we had and she was like superman—she was deflecting everything.
Finally my little sister said, “Mom, I know you’re drinking a lot of vodka.”
She got real indignant and she looked at her and said, “How can you possibly know that?”
And Tammy (not her real name) said, “Because I see you walk into the bathroom with an empty glass, and then you come out with a full glass but I haven’t heard the faucet run.”
There was dead silence and Mom said, “OK.” And that’s all there was. That’s what got to her. Her finally realizing that, yeah, people know … if this little 8-year-old kid knows I’m doing it.
Sometimes what helps a drunk is the power of a memory.
There’s different things in my life that kind of stick out. I went into a bar in downtown and I’d been working downtown at the time, went there every day and the barmaid knew us. So she started getting me something to drink … I always drank it in a glass. And I told her, “No, just give it to me in the can.” The reason I wanted it in a can was because I knew I was shaking so bad that it was going to be really, really hard to get that glass to my lips without spillin’.
At this time I had just turned 23. When I was drinking that can I had a flashback, just a moment in time when I was 18 and sitting in this bar. A guy walked in … this guy was probably in his sixties. He just looked disheveled and tired and old. He got this double-double with the beer chaser and he had to put his head all the way down to the bar to get his lips on the drink so he could put it back because he was shaking so bad that if he didn’t he was going to spill it.
Then he did the same thing with the beer chaser and he ordered another one. …And after the second one he just kind of went sssssshhhhheeewwwww and he was OK then, he got a fix.
Sometimes what helps a drunk is the power of stories.
I heard a guy say one time—he lived in a cardboard box in the Bowery of New York, that’s where he ended up. That was his home. And after he sobered up, he lived there for another two years.
I knew him when he was 36 or 37 years sober and he died over 50 years sober. And he said, “A lot of yi’z never made it down in the gutter with me and livin’ in a box. A lot of yi’z picked the gutter up and took it home and put it in your living room for your wives and kids to live in. I din’ hurt nobody livin’ in that box.”
Everybody has moments when we see ourselves for the way we really are—and when he said that I knew exactly what I was. And what it triggered was the thought, “Instead of being so damn full of self-pity and anger about where you’re at, you ought to be a little grateful for where you didn’t end up.”
What every drunk needs is his pain, according to Michael.
What brings people to their knees, for lack of a better term, to a point where they’re able to get some help—if help’s available to them—is they have to reach a point of pain so bad that they want to get out. They have to. So every time we rescue people—there’s a difference between rescuing and helping—every time we rescue someone from their pain, we’re denying them their pain, we’re denying them the chance to get sober.
And the support of people willing to teach and learn is imperative.
What happened when I called this treatment center—the reason I stayed—was because I found people who knew what my problem was. Not only that they knew what my problem was, they also knew what the solution was. Before I was gonna be able to get better, number one, I had to get detoxed, I had to get off of it and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. I had been physically addicted for a long time.
I had a guy tell me one time, “If you want to learn how to be sober, you ought to hang around sober people. If you’re trying to learn how to drink, I guess you hang around drinking people.” So that’s what I did. Out of this treatment center was a huge social organization out of all the people who were graduates of this treatment center. We did a lot of stuff together. We learned how to be sober together.
I was basically socially stonewalled from the time I was about 14. I had absolutely no social skills whatsoever. For somebody who thinks alcohol is the best friend they’ve ever had in their life, then all of a sudden it gets stripped away from him, I had nothing to lean on. It was very scary, very scary.
What’s totally useless is ordering alcoholics to “quit drinking so much,” because they simply don’t know how to do that.
I absolutely think you can pull up on all your bootstraps all you want, but until you have a solution to your problem, you’re going to keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing because you don’t know of any other way to do it.
Everything you’re telling him he already knows. He already knows his drinking is a problem—he’s not stupid. He knows that there’s a problem. The problem is that he doesn’t know what the solution is.
Don’t forget a sense of humor….
Want to hear a good drunk joke? A guy walks into work one morning and he’s got his arm all bandaged up and in a sling and his face is all scratched up. His buddy said, “Jesus! What happened to you?” And he said, “Man, I started drinking yesterday and decided to go horseback riding. So I get on this horse and I’m so drunk I can’t sit on him. I fall off, my foot gets caught in the stirrup and he just keeps on going.” And the guys said, “Man, you’re really lucky. How’d you finally get off?” and he said, “My wife came out of K-Mart and unplugged him.”
You gotta be able to laugh, you really do. •