As I strolled down 16th street mall recently on a Saturday evening, I stopped at a park bench to participate in one of my favorite solo activities: people watching. From my vantage point at an old piano meant to liven up the mall with colorful sounds, I saw people walking by, talking, laughing, yelling, and soaking in a warm Colorado night as the sun sank slowly behind the mountains. I spent twenty or thirty minutes watching, listening, and taking in the surroundings as I sipped on a vanilla latte from a nearby Starbucks.
I didn’t have much of a plan that evening—but I found myself struck by the number of homeless strolling by, playing cards, chatting on the sidewalks. I went home to do some research on the homeless population found that there are 6,000+ homeless in Denver, of which 60% are families with children, 42% are women, and found this TED talk from 2009, where journalist Becky Blanton speaks about her experience being homeless.
The talk focuses on three main points: (1) society’s placement of value on having shelter, (2) the negative perceptions of others’ realities and the implications it has on an individual, and (3) homelessness is an attitude, not a lifestyle. Reading the comments below the talk, I found that there were many people impacted positively and negatively from the talk itself. The important piece, however, is the need to think about homelessness as we go about our daily lives–its causes, its truths, and its myths. The talk itself serves to be a springboard for conversation, not a piece that ends homelessness altogether.
In 2003, then-mayor John Hickenlooper created a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Denver, called Denver’s Road Home. An ambitious project, it was created to end homelessness in Denver by 2015. The current statistics on the project show the numbers of homeless have fallen by 11%, and the project has reduced chronic homelessness to a large degree, and has built over 1,000 new housing units to individuals and families in need. There are many myths and false perceptions of the homeless, but the truth is that many of the homeless have jobs, are seeking better lives, and aren’t panhandling for money. The vast majority of panhandlers in Denver, costing citizens over $4 million per year, aren’t homeless and most of the homeless don’t panhandle. We are on the right path in Denver, but we need to focus our efforts on truly solving the problem, which is not always by blindly giving to a man on a corner with a cardboard sign.
What are you doing to make a difference? How can our community rise up and continue fighting for decency for people, for understanding, and for better lives?