Sheltering in place while unhoused in Denver

By Paula Bard, Denver VOICE

According to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative’s Point in Time (PIT) report, there are more than 5,755 unhoused citizens in Denver. Of these, 600 men have been bussed out to the National Western Complex [a new shelter facility which began operating at capacity upon opening], 700 of the vulnerable and frail have been offered free hotel rooms, and between 1,500 and 2,000 individuals occupy Denver’s additional shelter beds.

This leaves Denver with possibly more than 2,000 unhoused individuals carving out an edgy existence on its streets. Meanwhile, the coronavirus stalks, and public health issues loom dangerously on the horizon.

An empty 17th street, Denver. [Credit: Giles Clasen]

In this dystopian cityscape, the remaining unhoused and economically disenfranchised citizens have just created a new city within our city, north of downtown. At the center of this pop-up city is Denver’s blue mobile public restroom equipped with a mere three stalls and a few hand-washing stations scattered throughout the area. None of these resources are sufficient for an at-risk population of 2,000 citizens. Stepping up to help, Denver Homeless Out Loud and Mutual Aid Denver have donated four additional portable toilets, along with hand-washing and trash stations as of late April.

Credit: Paula Bard Credit: Paula Bard

Over the past few weeks, Giles Clasen, who is a regular contributor to the Denver VOICE, has captured images of the streets of Downtown Denver (while practicing social distancing and protecting himself and those he photographed). These are comments from a few of those with whom he spoke.

Michael [Credit: Giles Clasen]

Michael: “Everything has changed for us. There is no access to bathrooms. There is no ability to get food anymore. Everything is closed. And it ain’t popular to say, but there is no access to narcotics. You try living on the streets sober. It ain’t popular, but it ain’t easy being on the street, and this is making it harder.”

Jospeh Mitchell [Credit: Giles Clasen]

Joseph Mitchell: “The coronavirus is messing with everything in my life. The little support available [to homeless individuals] is gone. No one is out, so there is no charity, no care. I can’t even raise enough money in a day to buy a hamburger from Wendy’s. Two different people told me about the checks from the government. But how can I get them? How? I don’t know anything about the payment. I don’t know how to get it or even how to start. I just feel very alone and am not sure what to do.”

Spray [Credit: Giles Clasen]

Spray: “We don’t know anyone who has gotten sick, but this is hard. There are some bright spots. They are letting us set up tents and leaving us be. The cops are bothering us less and being nice when they check on us. We are trying to be cleaner and respectful. But for people on the bottom, people don’t understand how hard it is to survive this, how hard it is to get a job. People say we’re lazy, we need to just get a job. It isn’t as easy as getting a job. It is hard to get clean and presentable. It is hard to get to an interview on time. And this – well this is making everything harder. Forget getting a job – try getting food now.”