Editor's Note

Editor's Note

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.

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News Briefs: Census workers reach out to Denver’s fringe communities

Published January 2010 Vol. 14 Issue 1

The U.S. Census Bureau is making efforts to reach out to the Denver Metro Area’s immigrant and homeless populations, hoping to encourage these groups to participate in the 2010 census, which will begin in March. Since census numbers determine everything from funding for schools and social programs to how many seats each state will get in the House of Representatives, it is important to include new immigrants and other groups traditionally wary of government in the census count.

The Census Bureau is using many avenues to dispel any fear people might have of working with them. Some Spanish-speaking radio stations, for example, will begin airing folk songs about the census. Telemundo has partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to add a Census Bureau recruiter character to Mas Sabe El Diablo (The Devil Knows Best), one of the station’s most popular soap operas. The Census Bureau is also looking for interpreters that speak the languages of Bhutan, Burma and Somalia to help immigrants fill out census forms.

Census workers are also hoping to reach more of Denver’s homeless population this year. Officials began working a year ago with various homeless outreach programs to identify street hangouts. The workers will also be canvassing hotels and motels in an effort to connect with as many homeless citizens as they can.

-- Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Use of capital punishment on the decline

Published January 2010 Vol. 14 Issue 1

Fewer death sentences were issued in 2009 than any year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to a year-end report released by the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit, nonpolitical group that provides facts and analysis, as well as opposition to the practice of capital punishment.

The number of death sentences in the U.S. has been on the decline for the past seven years. Eleven states, including Colorado, considered abolishing the death penalty in 2009. With many states facing severe budget issues, the cost of capital punishment has become increasingly important. Even Texas, which traditionally tops state lists for both number of executions and number of death sentences issued, has seen a decrease in the use of the death penalty over the past decade.

Since 1973, over 100 people facing death sentences have been exonerated.

-- Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Housing development creates homes, jobs for homeless

Published January 2010 Vol. 14 Issue 1

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Renaissance Housing Development Corporation is constructing a new, mixed income housing development at the northwest corner of Colfax and Pearl. The building, called the Renaissance Uptown Lofts, will provide at least 16 units for chronically homeless individuals, as well as affordable rent apartments for people at or below certain percentages of area median income.

The Renaissance Uptown Lofts will be the first construction built by the newly formed Renaissance Works Job Program, which will employ homeless individuals to work as construction laborers. The number of people employed at this development and the types of jobs available were unknown as of press time.

In addition, the Renaissance Uptown Lofts will be compliant with Green Communities’ guidelines. They will feature photovoltaic solar panels, Energy Star rated appliances, enhanced insulation and healthy interior materials.

-- Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Just an American Girl

Published November 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 10

The Mattel toy company has caused a media-stir with the release earlier this year of a homeless doll. The American Girl Store released Gwen Thompson, the newest in its long line of expensive dolls—each one retails for around $95. Part of the popularity of the brand lies in the intricate back-story that accompanies each doll.

Gwen’s back-story? After her father walked out on them, Gwen and her mother fell on hard times and the two ended up living in a car. While some customers have complained on the American Girl website that Gwen doesn’t come with very many accessories, some additions, such as the violin that Gwen enjoys playing in the book that introduced her, can be purchased separately at the American Girls store. You can also purchase a sleeping bag for Gwen for $26, or just cover her with newspaper. Prospective buyers should also be aware that Gwen can easily borrow the old outfits of American Girl Dolls they already own.

The Manitou Messenger of St. Olaf College listed a full Winter Gwen ensemble concept: Patchy Socks: $16, Oversized Coat: $40, Knit Cap: $24, Hand-me-Down Boots: $30

Gwen Thompson is not the first doll to be marketed as “homeless.” In 1965, Hasbro introduced Little Miss No Name, who came with her own burlap sack dress and a removable plastic teardrop. Little Miss No Name was quickly discontinued.

-- Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Homeless Health Goes Hi-Tech

Published November 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 10

The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced $2 million in grants for two health information technology initiatives in Colorado. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless received $1,865,625 to implement electronic health records (EHRs), while the Colorado Community Managed Care Network, which serves 62 clinics in Colorado, received $250,000 to improve existing electronic health records. The CCH’s Stout Street Clinic has been operating in downtown Denver for almost 25 years, delivering healthcare to the homeless. The CCMCN’s patients are low-income and primarily medically underserved. Senators Mark Udal and Michael Bennet applauded the announcement of the grants, saying that the money will cut health care costs and reduce medical errors in Colorado, and also lead to better outcomes for the thousands of patients the two organizations serve every year. Detractors of EHRs warn that the electronic systems are not as efficient as they have been touted to be, and have led to misclassifications of illnesses by limiting diagnosis to check boxes on a form. The grants are part of $27.8 million in total grants announced in late September by the Department of Health and Human Services and provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

-- Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Grand Junction Receives Stimulus Money to Help Homeless Students

Published September 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 8

Grand Junction’s school district, District 51, will receive an $80,000 grant to help homeless students. The district’s REACH program (Resources, Education and Advocacy for Children who are Homeless) will use the money to send certified teachers to six district schools to tutor homeless students.

The district, which served 478 homeless students last year, selected schools with the highest concentrations of homeless students. Recently, District 51 has seen a major increase in homeless students. There were twice as many students classified as homeless in the district for the 2008/2009 school year than there were for the previous year. Because the district will actually be receiving more money than it requested, Cathy Haller, District 51 prevention services coordinator, is waiting for approval from the state to send certified teachers to two more high schools.

—Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: City Council Approves Additional Homeless Funds

Published September 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 8

Two Denver City Council members expressed concern over city contractors who begin work before the contracts in question are properly executed and signed by the city. Councilman Charlie Brown raised the issue last month during a vote to approve a $525,000 contract for homeless services by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. Despite the vote being in August, the contract had a start date of April 1st, and the CCH, after receiving the go-ahead from the Denver Department of Human Services, had already begun to spend the money.

According to the city’s website, this is a common practice. Seventy five percent of expenditure contracts this year have had a start date before the contract is scheduled to reach the office of the mayor and the auditor. Councilman Charlie Brown asked the city council to vote down the CCH contract in order to set an example for other contractors.

Ultimately, the majority of the Council members decided a contract concerning money to help Colorado’s homeless was not the best contract to make an example of by voting down. “This is not the issue I want to hold up as an example,” said Councilwoman Marcia Johnson. The contract was approved 10-2, with Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz siding with Brown and Councilman Paul Lopez absent. BJ Iacino of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless says the organization is grateful the city did not take steps to compromise their ability to deliver services.


-- Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Bar Codes and Piggy Banks in Colorado Springs

Published September 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 8

Two proposed programs aimed at improving homeless services in Colorado Springs may be underway again after experiencing delays over the past year. One program is a rapid-entry card system. Homeless clients of various Colorado Springs agencies will be provided with a card that has the cardholder’s photo and a bar code. The card will expedite services for people who need them by replacing the old process of filling out a new form for each new agency. The card will also help formulate long-term plans to get people into housing. The program ran into a setback this January when the contracted vendor went out of business. The program is now back on track, and a test run of the card system is expected to take place soon.

The second program is a network of repurposed parking meters that will be placed in Colorado Springs businesses to collect change for local agencies offering services for the homeless. Colorado Springs Councilman Jerry Heimlicher initially proposed the plan two years ago as part of an effort to decrease panhandling in the area. The program experienced difficulties early on in finding the machines—it took a year and a half to acquire all 135 used meters. Another setback occurred when organizers realized they did not have enough money to pay the artists they originally had commissioned to customize each meter. Local businesses will now be donating the money to buy materials that volunteers will use to decorate the meters. Heimlicher is hoping to launch the meters by October.


-- Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Major overnight homeless shelter closes

Published September 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 8

Crossroads Men's Shelter of the Denver Salvation Army, photos by Adrian DiUbaldo

The Denver Salvation Army closed its Crossroads Men’s Shelter last month. The Salvation Army will redirect resources from the emergency shelter to support services such as counseling and transitional housing programs. The Salvation Army is hoping to better align itself with Denver’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.The closure is also due in part to the economic downturn. “In our ongoing mission to do the most good for people in need we are making this change,” says Capt. Ron McKinney, Salvation Army city coordinator. “Recognizing the limitations of funds that are available requires our agency to be as effective as possible in the use of monies.” Last December, The Salvation Army saw their donations drop by 30 percent.

The Crossroads Men’s Shelter first opened in 1983. It had 136 beds, 99 regular mats and up to 330 emergency mats. The shelter housed an average of 230 men per night during warm weather and 300 men per night during winter weather. Crossroads also served over 900 meals per day.

The city has not been able to respond with a plan yet to supplement the shelter needs before this winter. 

—Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Grand Junk Shun

Published August 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 7

Grand Junction saw an increase in homeless camps this year, some of them outside the usual areas along riverbanks, islands and bridges. In May, crews made up of jail inmates disposed of 15 of the camps and nine truckloads of trash in a vacant area of private property. Grand Junction Neighborhood Services, which is responsible for disposing of the camps, cites prevention of the spread of disease as the main reason for the cleanup.

The Rescue Mission of Grand Junction has 39 beds. The Homeward Bound Homeless Shelter has 87 beds during the winter months, and was just approved to increase their size to 130 beds; summer capacity is limited to 45.Homeward Bound in Grand Junction has said that more homeless people have been requesting service this year, and they have seen an increase in families with children needing help. Shelter demand in the city is outpacing supply.

—Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Since the recession...

Published August 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 7

Homelessness in Colorado is on the rise. According to an annual homeless assessment report released last month by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 14,747 Coloradans were homeless in 2008, 3.7 percent more than the number of homeless in 2007. BJ Iacino, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, expects to see a much more dramatic increase when HUD’s 2009 study is published. Since the 2008 study was conducted, the CCH has seen an increase of over 20 percent in the number of newly homeless families seeking assistance. While nationally the number of homeless families seeking shelter increased by 9 percent, the number of homeless families seeking shelter in rural and suburban communities increased by almost 56 percent. Colorado not only has one of the highest concentrations of homeless people in the nation (.3 percent of its population), it is also one of only eight states where the number of unsheltered homeless was greater than the number of sheltered homeless.

—Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Whistleblower at Cigna

Published August 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 7

After a year of hanging in the wings, Wendell Potter, former vice president of public relations at Cigna, is blowing the whistle on healthcare insurer practices that he says have crippled our system. At a June hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Potter testified that Cigna regularly purged customers. Potter described purging as a routine practice in which underwriters would “jack up” already expensive insurance rates when a small business policy was up for renewal. The rates would be raised so high that employers would be forced to drop their policies. Chris Curran, a Cigna spokesman, denies the company engages in this practice.

Potter now serves as Senior Fellow on Health Care for the non-partisan Center for Media and Democracy. He supports legislation that would give people the opportunity of joining a government health care plan. Considering the current debate in both the public and in Congress, Potter said in an editorial column on CMD, “remember this:  whenever you hear a politician or pundit use the term “government-run health care” and warn that the creation of a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurers (or heaven forbid, a single-payer system like the one Canada has) will “lead us down the path to socialism,” know that the original source of the sound bite most likely was some flack like I used to be.”

—Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Another Kind of Credit Crisis

Published July 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 6

The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority saw another increase in the demand for tax credits this year. CHFA has a total of $11.1 million in tax credits to disperse among developers for low-income housing projects. During the first round alone, developers submitted 21 applications requesting $19.7 million.

Congress created the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program in 1986. Its purpose is to encourage the construction and rehabilitation of low-income rental housing by providing a federal income tax credit as an incentive. Developers sell these tax credits to investors. When determining which applicants receive tax credits, CHFA gives preference to projects serving those with the lowest income and projects obligated to serve qualified tenants for the longest period of time.

Over the past three years, the tax credit market has seen a dramatic drop in prices. Due to the recession, fewer investors have federal tax liabilities they need to offset with tax credits. This causes the price of tax credits to drop, making it more difficult for developers to sell tax credits to investors. As pricing drops, more developers are seeking larger credits to make their projects work. Tax credit investments are an integral part of financing for many housing developments for the homeless under Denver’s Road Home.

Tax credits are currently getting between 65 and 72 cents on the dollar, compared to 80 to 90 cents on the dollar two years ago and between 90 cents and $1.00 per credit in fall of 2006.

—Sarah Harvey

News Briefs: Nation’s homeless face more laws against them

Published April 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 3

A much-anticipated report gauging how American communities deal with their homeless will likely be released by summer 2009. Every two years the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) publish a joint study documenting trends in U.S. cities toward the criminalization of homelessness.

In recent years, cities across the nation have increasingly passed stricter vagrancy laws that ban activities such as sleeping or sitting in public spaces, eating in public places and begging or panhandling. Denver joined the growing ranks of cities making it tougher to be homeless three years ago when it began enforcing new ordinances to curb panhandling downtown and along the 16th Street Mall.

According to the NCH’s ‘A Dream Denied,’ a report which studied cities nation-wide, between 2002 and 2007 there was a:

12% increase laws prohibiting begging in certain public places
18% increase in laws that prohibit aggressive panhandling
14% increase in laws prohibiting sitting or lying in certain public spaces
3% increase in laws prohibiting loitering or loafing

Michael Stoops, the Director of NCH, confirmed that although they haven’t finished compiling all the data yet, in their preliminary research NCH sees the trend toward criminalization continuing.

—Sarah Harvey