Denver is missing something – the homeless

Posted on August 28, 2008

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I was walking up the 16th Street Mall this morning when I got stopped by a man offering me a small newspaper called the Denver Voice. It’s a paper written in large part by the homeless, about the homeless, and sold on the streets of Denver by the homeless. For a suggested donation of $1.00, I got a metaphorical smack upside the head, and an article inside the the Voice brought made it smart even more. I hadn’t even noticed, and my lack of noticing was something unusual. Downtown Denver is missing something.

Where are the homeless?

Before the DNC, there were rumors flying around that the homeless would be rounded up and carted away to some other part of the city, or given money for a meal and a bus ticket out of Denver entirely, or even arrested and held for a week on trumped-up charges that would be conveniently dropped Friday or Saturday after the election. But no-one knew for sure. According to the Voice article “Denver Won’t Hide Homeless for the DNC”, New York city police issued “quality of life” tickets in advance of the 2004 convention, and Denver’s homeless were concerned that the same thing would happen here. The article quoted Denver’s Road Home project manager Jamie Van Leeuwen as saying that the DNC would be largely business as usual for homeless shelters, with a few “extending hours or involving the homeless in politics related activities.” And Commander Deborah Dilley, the Denver Police Department’s downtown district commander said in the article that “the homeless won’t be unfairly targeted by any law enforcement during the DNC.”

So where are they?

Most of Denver’s homeless live in the public spaces of downtown and LoDo, panhandle along the 16th Street Mall and the Cherry Creek Path, and sleep in the large parks and public space that have been taken over or blocked off by the DNC, various security forces, and protesters. But they’re all gone. I’ve been getting into downtown between 7 and 8 AM since Monday, walking from one end of downtown to the other, and the only possible homeless people I’ve seen all week were on Sunday up on Capitol Hill, well outside the main areas where the homeless would congregate. And you’d think that, with such a huge influx of people and wealth, panhandlers would be all over the place trying to get as much money from the delegates, press, staff, and politicians as they possibly could. But they aren’t there. They’re not just invisible, they’re actually gone.

I’ve heard rumors that the homeless were given movie tickets during the day to keep them off the streets. But fellow Scrogue Edmundo Rocha, who used as a homeless specialist for the Harris County Community Development Department says that most cities do exactly what DPD Commander Dilley and Van Leeuwen said they weren’t going to do – they round up the homeless and either detain them at an undisclosed detention center, or they ship them off to economically depressed suburbs and away from the throngs of visitors like all of those attending the DNC.

I’ve asked my fellow Scrogues if they’ve seen any homeless, and the only one of us who has seen more than one or two is Edmundo.

It’s terrible thing to be picked up and hauled away, even temporarily, for the “crime” of not being able to afford a home. But they’re not here in downtown Denver, so they have to have gone somewhere. If you know where they’ve gone, if you’ve talked to some of the sudden influx of homeless in your area and they’re from Denver, let us know. We’d like to know who to point a finger at and accuse of caring more for public appearances during the DNC than for the homeless of Denver.

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