Remembering Raven

Remembering Raven

Rising street paper star found dead on street

By Laura Kelly

Last month homeless activist Raven Canon was found dead in Colorado Springs. Despite experiencing homelessness, Canon had just launched a brand new street paper, The Springs Echo.

On March 4 at 9:30 a.m., a homeless woman was found unresponsive on the streets of Colorado Springs, wrapped against the 29 degree cold in a blanket. Raven Canon was at least the ninth person to die on the city’s streets this winter, activists say. She was also a rising star in her community, an effective community organizer and activist, and the editor-in-chief of the world’s newest street paper, The Springs Echo

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Writing Through Hard Times

Writing Through Hard Times

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.

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Ask a Vendor

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 editor@denvervoice.org.


What is the biggest misconception about homelessness?


John Alexander

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.

John Alexander. Photo by Giles Clasen.

John Alexander. Photo by Giles Clasen.

Joe Osckel

That people are homeless because they are lazy or on dope.

 

Stephanie Rogers

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.

 

Armand Casazza

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. ■

Temporary Tiny Homes for Denver’s Homeless

A vacant lot at 38th and Walnut Streets is slated to become Denver's first tiny home community.
By Sonia Christensen

The future site of Beloved Community Village. Photo by Giles Clasen

The future site of Beloved Community Village. Photo by Giles Clasen

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. ■

The Guided Evolution of Arapahoe Square

The Guided Evolution of Arapahoe Square

By Paul Karolyi

More than a million people are projected to move to the Denver metro area by 2040, according to the Denver Regional Council of Governments. For city officials, urban planners, and other stakeholders in Denver’s communities, the expected population boom presents a challenge: How can we uphold our values while managing growth?

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Good News: Urgency to a New Life

By Aneta Storvik, PR Coordinator for the Denver Rescue Mission

Urgency—a word that sums up Michael’s journey to a new life. His journey begins at the Lawrence Street Shelter.

One day, after finishing breakfast at the shelter, instead of moving from his seat to go back outside, he sat there. He was afraid that if he had walked out those doors, then he would have died—if not physically, emotionally. So he waited with determination and carried that sense of urgency with him, and spoke with Jay Earl, the intake chaplain, about starting the New Life Program—a rehabilitation program at Denver Rescue Mission.

His sense of urgency paid off. By that evening, he was enrolled in the New Life Program and his life was forever changed.

“Jay Earl believed in me, and he gave me a chance when he had no reason to think I could clean up my life up,” Michael recalls.

Michael impressed his supervisors with his work ethic and positive attitude and earned four promotions in less than a year. Today, he’s an assistant manager at a Goodwill store and a graduate of the New Life Program.

Watch Michael’s story here!

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I am grateful to work at Denver Rescue Mission and hear these stories first-hand, and the best part of it all, is that we all can relate to Michael’s story of urgency and determination. We all experience the “white flag” moment that finally releases the crippling habits that bring us down.

The New Life Program is dependent on the men, who are seeking change, that want to fight for their lives. It’s a fight to freedom from negative decisions, addictions, abuse…

When you partner with organizations like the Denver VOICE or the Mission, you’re helping, encouraging and supporting men and women who are fighting for their lives! 

Denver Quirks: Making a Difference After Hours

By Rebekah Hanish

“Love God. Love people,” Pastor Jerry Herships says. It’s the closest thing that After Hours church would have to a mission statement.

It’s a statement that may not be that revolutionary for most churches. But holding church during happy hour at a bar probably is.

After Hours church holds a bi-monthly service at either Blake Street Tavern or The Irish Snug on Monday nights. Attendees are invited to eat, get a drink and talk as well as bring however many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or the ingredients!) they want.

But not for themselves. It would be weird to bring your own peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a bar.

As an act of service, during worship time, several people head to the back of the room where an assembly line is formed. They make and pack up the sandwiches with bags of chips, a piece of fruit and crackers or a cookie into brown paper lunch bags. The next day, a crew will head out to Civic Center Park at noon to distribute the lunches to the homeless along with water, clothes, hygiene items or anything else a homeless person might need. They also offer prayers and communion for those who wish to take it.

Originally starting as a ministry branch of St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, After Hours started about three years ago. But the church didn’t have the resources to keep it going. Shortly after discontinuing After Hours, the bishop appointed Herships to take it on as a full-time church in downtown Denver, not necessarily associated with St. Andrew’s.

After Hours has been operating on its own for a year now and is thriving. About one third of the 50-60 people that come are from the original St. Andrew’s group, and the rest are from the downtown area, largely drawn in by the marketing coasters that After Hours leaves around the bars.

With a church that small, making the lunches for the homeless six days a week would be an impossible task. But after hearing about what After Hours is doing, seven other churches, two businesses and an apartment complex have approached After Hours wanting to partner with their cause. It’s with their help that people can regularly get lunch at Civic Center Park six days a week.

“You may come here, and you may meet some people you like and you might not. You might learn something about the character of God, and you might not. You might love it, and you may not. But at the end of the day, we made lunch for a lot of homeless people tomorrow,” Herships says during his leading of the sermon/discussion time. 

Local Homeless-Related News: A New Way to Count the Homeless

by Diana Kurniawan

Any individual in the nation can be vulnerable to homelessness especially with the shaken economy, but how do you define who is more vulnerable then others?

A lot of agencies across the country would love a solid answer to this question, but how? Colorado Counts, a statewide initiative, is working to define this vulnerability in our state.

Colorado Counts, in collaboration with Community Solutions and 100,000 Homes Campaign, will seek vulnerable individuals in Colorado to identify his/her housing and health care needs. This statewide initiative is designed to work with local county governments and the Office of Governor Hickenlooper.

Think of it as a detailed, one-on-one Point-in-Time, which 100,000 Homes Campaign claims isn’t enough to determine a community's real need and help agencies address that need.

Volunteers will interview and photograph individuals living on the street (only those that give consent) to measure each person’s the Vulnerability Index — or how volunerable and therefore in need each individual is. Some have already been conducted

Variables that will be measured by Colorado Counts include: 

1) Life threatening health issues

2) Behaviors or circumstances which jeopardize health, life and/or housing ·

3) At‐risk for system involvement

4) Frequent user of emergency services

The model is taken from the 100,000 Homes Campaign strategy, which builds community teams to work person-to-person to help the at-risk individual find secure housing or permanent employment. Each volunteer in their designated community area will take a photograph of the individual, whom they have interviewed, and clarify their needs to regain a better life.

So far, 150 communities have participated in the campaign and the number of persons housed through this model is constantly updated.

The Colorado effort is currently seeking volunteers; visit them online or email them info@coloradocounts.org.

Local Homeless-Related News: Rescue Mission food prep cause of Poisoning

On Sunday, more than 60 people were hospitalized for food poisoning after eating dinner at the Denver Rescue Mission. The incident is currently under investigation. (Denver Post article linked)

Here's an official statement from Brad Meuli, President/CEO, Denver Rescue Mission:

While waiting for official results from public health officials, Denver Rescue Mission conducted an internal investigation into the incident that sent 60 people to the hospital Sunday, July 22.      

We determined that our Lawrence Street Shelter did not follow our established procedures for handling pre-prepared food donations on Sunday, July 22, which it often receives.

We are working closely with officials at Environmental Health and Denver Public Health regarding Sunday’s incident. We are taking this matter very seriously by thoroughly examining internal procedures for food safety.

Annually at Denver Rescue Mission, we provide over 600,000 meals and are confident this is an isolated incident. Our number one concern is for the poor and needy we serve every day. We understand that all of the people who were hospitalized have been treated and released, and many returned to stay at the Mission. I am unaware of something like this ever happening at Denver Rescue Mission, and we will make every effort to limit the possibility of this ever happening again.

With the exception of pre-prepared food, we are operating all of our facilities as normal, including the distribution of food to our partner agencies and accepting food donations from our generous community. Pre-prepared food will not be served at the shelter until health officials complete the investigation.

Denver Rescue Mission has been serving the community for over 120 years. The Mission will continue providing critical meals, shelter, clothing, and medical care to those in need, helping people to change their lives moving from poverty to self-sufficiency.

International Perspective from the Homeless

For Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday yesterday, The Big Issue vendors — past and present — shared their memories of Madiba and reflected on his achievements and his impact on their lives. The Big Issue is South Africa's street paper.

 

"Other South African presidents can learn a lot from Mandela. Like they can learn compassion and how to scale down on all the stuff. They don't need fancy cars and lavish parties. They can also learn to be humble because Nelson Madela is always humble." - Lizo Qatase

"If I met Mandela I would tell him I wish he could survive to over 100 years old." - Banathi Dres

"I admire Madiba's ability to reach out to people on a huge spectrum and touch those people in a real way. I admire his diplomacy - these qualities are sorely lacking in our presidency now." - Steven Busse

"Madiba created job opportunities for the people while he was president. He has done so much for us, but we are filled with greed. He showed us ubuntu. On his birthday everyone wanted to give him gifts, he said that they should give to the needy, like orphans and people living with HIV/Aids." - Alice Pina Ncata

"My best memory of Madiba is when he was in prison, he didn't want to come out. They wanted to release Mandela in the night, but he said [they should release him] in the morning when everyone can see him, and hear him." - Martin Malgas

"If I could have one of Madiba's qualities, it would be his ability to love. His love knows no bounds and I want to be that type of person. Love is what keeps us connected. I have great respect for Utata Madiba and the love he has for this nation." - Portia Mbimbi

"I was in the Eastern Cape when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. It was a great day and one I will remember always. Everyone was jumping for joy when we heard the news." - Mfundo Ncapayi

"When I think about Utata Madiba I become happy. I think of all the good he has done for this country and for me. I now have a house because of the promise he made when he came into power. I am always happy when I think about Madiba because he is such a great man." - Perina Ngambu

www.street-papers.org / The Big Issue South Africa

Photo Credit: REUTERS/POOL New

Dry Bones: A different look at life in Denver

By Sarah Harvey

We began just north of Union Station, in the shadow of Coors Field, and made our way southwest along Delgany Street; it was a small stretch of land near the railroad tracks that development had missed (for now). We walked past a warehouse, past dirt lots just waiting for the right buyer. We stopped for a few minutes near an empty lot, where Robbie and Matt, our tour guides, reminded us to think about the meanings behind things we saw. At one point during the walk, Robbie pointed to an orange bottle cap in the dirt, explaining that he knew the group that handed out orange juice with just that color bottle cap. That piece of plastic on the ground was litter—but it was more than that too. It marked a place where someone had received help.

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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.

 

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Hate Crimes

By Margo Pierce

John Johnson needed 18 stitches in his head and his girlfriend was in fear for her life after an April 10 attack at a camp in Cincinnati where they lived. Johnson, 52, says he was sleeping under a highway overpass at about 3 A.M. when four men attacked him.

“I was awakened by four young men telling me to exit the property,” he says. “As I was complying with them, they started beating me with pipes and bats upside the head and up and down the left side of my body.”

Johnson’s attack is part of a bigger pattern of abuse that is becoming more apparent across the country. Homeless people all over North America are being set on fire, beaten, stabbed, shot, strangled, brutalized by police, harassed and raped. Many of these crimes go unreported, and the ones that do come to light might not necessarily be recorded as hate crimes.That means statistics for tracking the violence in order to find ways to address it are inadequate.

 

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ACLU Fights Anchorage

The ACLU is continuing to push the city of Anchorage, Alaska, to extend the window of time homeless campers have to vacate illegal encampments. After a local law made it illegal for the homeless to camp outdoors in the city, and gave violators 12 hours to vacate after being notified, the ACLU filed suit in court. The ACLU is insisting on a 10-day window to vacate encampments, and said it will not drop the lawsuit after the city proposed a 7-day compromise. 

Little Junction in GJ

Last month, Grand Junction residents protested a decision by the city to change Colorado West Park, known locally as the “wedge,” into a median. The decision will impact the homeless in Grand Junction, where it is illegal to panhandle in medians.

Homeless advocates, many of whom for safety reasons supported the law prohibiting panhandling in medians, told reporters in June that they were going to fight the city’s decision to convert West Park into a median. They say there was no public input before the Grand Junction officials re-oriented the park as a median.

According to local news sources, the city says nothing illegal was done because the area of land in question was never officially a park, it was just commonly referred to as one. The land in question is located at the junction of two state highways.

Welcome to Ocean Beach

Since the end of June, a small store in Ocean Beach, Cali. has been garnering national attention with a bumper sticker. Shop owner Ken Anderson created a sticker reading, “Welcome to Ocean Beach, Please Don’t Feed Our Bums,” basing the phrase on the National Forest Service stickers of the past that advised park visitors not to feed bears.

The stickers have generated protest in the San Diego neighborhood of Ocean Beach, and have sparked discussion across the country as people weigh in on the subject of supporting panhandlers.

In 2005, Denver passed an anti-panhandling law prohibiting panhandling in the downtown Denver Business Improvement District, and limiting panhandling elsewhere in the city. Communities across the country have been grappling with the question of whether to allow citizens to panhandle, on the one hand, or to give people money or food on the other. Several cities have passed anti-panhandling laws. Denver’s law includes a provision that prohibits giving people food on the 16th street mall, a crime that is punishable by a fine.