Tough Love

By Tom deMers

Home was the third floor of a house with a balcony out front. It was the top floor a few blocks from one of Denver’s busiest streets. It was secure. Three locked doors separated the apartment from the street below. But it wasn’t safe. Renee had keys to none of those doors. She was allowed out once a week when they went to Wal-Mart. She wore oversized sunglasses to hide the bruises and always walked behind him. He pointed to things, she put them in the cart. If the damage to her face wasn’t too bad, they stopped for lunch. He sat between her and the exit.


Read More

Profile: Falling through the cracks

Published April 2010 Vol. 14 Issue 4

by Tom deMers

For most people public housing is an unexpected bend in the road that leads to a place they never anticipated, perhaps never knew existed. The gratitude they feel for such a place can be huge.

It might be the gradual onset of diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), or severe depression that brings them to Pineview, a public housing facility in Boulder.*  All these are severely debilitating and require continuous medical supervision and drug therapy over an extended period. Or it might be an economic downturn with high unemployment, failing banks and foreclosures.

Or the problem might literally occur overnight.

Read More

Personal Profile: Paco In Paradise

Published February 2009 Vol. 13 Isuue 1

by Tom deMers

Before this story begins, Paco was leading the ordinary life of a double agent. By day he sold credit card processing systems for MasterCard. Completely legit. By night he called law enforcement officials with information on consumer fraud. “I felt like Clark Kent,” Paco told me, “earning a living in my business suit and informing on these mafia types in my Superman role.”  His undercover work prevented the financial abuse of working people and seniors, and Paco was proud of it.

But when the evidence he gathered on one Ponzi scheme was filed in Denver district court, his life became a nightmare. The filings were public record, and the thugs he informed on came after him. The death threats made him quit his job and drop out of sight. They phoned his mother in another state and harassed her for his whereabouts. Paco said the stress was unbearable. He moved out of Denver and into hiding at the home of a friend. After 18 months that situation became untenable, so Paco moved into his truck and hit the road.


Read More

Personal Profile: Big Man in the Nut House - Big Al, an ex-Vietnam tank crewman, dishes out 400 lbs of wisdom on life in public housing.

Published August 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 7

text and photographs by Tom deMers

Tom deMers is a writer and former HUD property manager. He lives in Longmont, Colo. “Big Man in the Nut House” is a chapter taken from his unpublished book titled “Living in the HUD.” Names have been changed at the request of concerned parties.

Hobo Camp
Technically, Big Al was never homeless. He lived east of Boulder in a Tuff Shed. Times being what they are, Tuff Shed living may be a lifestyle more people want to look into. If so, Big Al is your guy. We spoke on the patio at Pineview, a public housing facility I managed. A cautionary note: talking to Big Al is like driving down an old country road, lots of twists and turns before it ultimately reaches its destination.   

“I stayed in the Tuff Shed while out at the hobo camp near the creek,” he tells me. Several years. “Digger lived there too. You know Digger?”  The name was familiar. “Yeah, he lived there. He came up on the list for Pineview, but they wouldn’t let him in. He had some real bad habits; they must have found out. Probably good. He used to shit on the floor and wipe his ass on newspaper and throw it in the corner. Hank loved everybody, but he finally asked Digger to leave.”

“Who was Hank?” I asked.

“He was a lawyer, but he was a hippy at heart. Great guy. He owned this land by the creek and loved to have us there with him. People came and went. Some guys had tents. Hank lived in a trailer,” said Al. “I had the Tuff Shed.”

The Tuff Shed sounded tough in the winter. Not for Big Al.

“Hey, it had a door. I ran the space heater, turned on the TV and sat in my old leather chair. It was great. Of course there was no running water. Unless you were Digger, you had to crap in the Porta-Potty. That was tough.”

“How come you left?” I asked.

“Had to. We all did. The county rousted us out and cleared the land. Some guy got tagged for shoplifting. The police came out looking for him and discovered us all. I mean, they went bush to bush chasing everybody out, except Hank. Lucky for me, just at that time, I was offered public housing at Pineview and two other places. I’d already turned down Section 8 because they were paying only $275 of my rent, which I’d have nothing left for food or doctors or anything. But now, two years later, my social security was turned on, and I had enough to make it work. Then, you showed me this place with its great view of the hills. I said, ‘This is it!’”

Big Al

Read More