Denver, CO where the homeless are the gift that keeps on giving.
In downtown Denver it seems that the homeless come in never ending waves. Once a sweep is done, another wave shows up eventually.
Earlier this year the City of Denver conducted a sweep of homeless camps, forcing or so they thought the homeless off of the streets and into shelters and the like.
What really happened was the majority just found a new place to camp, along near the south Platte, some in neighboring residential areas where one resident reported to local media recently that she had, witnessed two homeless individuals having sex right out in the open, in her neighborhood…which by the way is nothing new for those who actually live right off of the mall area and in and around 13th, 14th, 16th and 17th avenues.
The point is, after the sweep earlier this year, the homeless numbers in particular areas dropped off, but they didn’t just stop being homeless or disappear. They camped out elsewhere.
Some blame it on the legalization of cannabis which I am sure brought some to Denver but it did not create the homeless issues that they face. Those very same issues have been plaguing the city for quite some time, for years in fact, prior to the legalization of recreational cannabis.
Now it seems the homeless have flocked right back to familiar territory. Drive down Lawrence by the shelter…you’ll find homeless hanging out, camped out and waiting…
The city has come out and said “we firmly believe people are best served indoors.” To some extent I agree with that idea, the intent is very well meant. But the idea itself is not one that will be successful at this juncture.
So here are the issues currently, residents, the city, business owners, visitors to the city, they all want the homeless out of sight and out of mind so to speak. So they came up with a solution designed to provide them shelter and a place to go, programs that are intended to help them become productive members of society.
But are the well wishers and planners truly understanding the issues that the homeless face?
Do they get it?
What is causing the homeless individuals to become homeless?
For some it is job loss or that the jobs they have simply do not pay enough for them to afford rent along with other housing costs.
Some suffer from mild to severe mental health issues that are under-treated, not treated at all or they are self treating through substance abuse.
Some are addicted to alcohol or drugs
Some suffer from a physical disability
Some have no family or friends that they can rely upon to help them so they all end up living on the streets.
A huge issue that the homeless complain about is the violence, assaults, filth and conditions at the shelters. The vast majority of the homeless will tell you that they would rather sleep on the street than in a shelter because the shelters are filthy, they have bed bugs, some are assaulted at shelters, hurt, and if you have ever walked through a shelter at night, it is pretty dehumanizing to say the least.
A lot of the programs so as to help them are designed specifically for helping the homeless obtain housing and jobs. Some of the specialized housing for the homeless have rules, the programs are more in line with transitional housing.
But to qualify certain conditions have to be met or the homeless is denied the housing or kicked out.
They cannot have priors for most of the transitional housing or if they do it cannot be sex assault and or violent priors, then the issue of substance abuse always comes up. While in most if not all of the transitional housing, they cannot drink or do drugs.
Well, that is a huge part of the homeless population. A lot do in fact suffer from some form of substance abuse, some have prior’s and some have priors that are due to mental illnesses that were never treated properly.
You cannot demand that the homeless give up whatever substance they abuse just so that they can have housing. I’ve heard people say, that if the homeless want off the streets bad enough they’ll give up drinking or doing drugs.
That is not a fair expectation to be honest. You don’t just expect a long time heavy drinker or drug user to give up something they are addicted to. It’s not instantaneous or easy and depending on the level of abuse, could potentially be dangerous to just give up cold turkey.
Then you have those that do want off the street but can’t afford housing. It’s easy to tell them to move to a suburb that may be more affordable, which then usually leaves them facing the hard cold reality of lack of transportation.
And some homeless, for them that is all that they know. If you have ever seen Shawshank Redemption, when Red gets out of prison, he struggles to adapt to life on the outside.
Think about a long term homeless individual, perhaps one that wasn’t ever really good at holding down a job, not drinking or using drugs, the family gig…it would not be easy for them.
So what we are left with is this really ugly circle that just doesn’t stop. We can’t force someone to seek help when they are unwilling to seek it out. We cannot force someone to seek a better life if they are content with the life that they have or if a better life is simply out of reach for various reasons and we cannot force someone to seek shelter if they do not want it.
The fact is, we cannot force them to head to any of the resources offered if they do not want them or if it, in the long run is not truly a long term solution.
The problem that the city faces is, legally just because the homeless aren’t pretty to look at they can’t really stop them from being homeless.
The fantasy, the expectation and desire in this case are simply not in line with the realities of why the homeless are homeless and the solutions are far from long term.
Cristal M Clark