On more and more corners of downtown Denver, at Speer, Colfax and Broadway I see unwashed people of all gender, race and creed, usually adult, dressed in rags sleepily holding cardboard scraps with marker written messages asking for money.

There seems to be several methods of “spare changing.” I see one lady with a baby stroller and a couple of kids crying. I wonder how many times a day she’s pinched them to elicit that reaction.

I gave some strung out punkish looking kids a dollar for their “Need a Beer…” sign. At least they have the scruples to be honest about the situation even if it’s been a few months, or years,  since any of them has done an honest day’s work.

Did that sound angry? While I realize that some of the anger stems from recognizing my own worst fears in these people, it still frustrates me that their actions, or lack thereof, make my own struggles as a working person that much more difficult.

Anxiety has been with me for a long time. The realization that the demographic bell curve of working people to elderly and children puts me in a very small burden bearing group of working people who must be drained to support non-working people. The taxes we currently pay are no less than what people pay in socialized Western European countries that have universal health-care, housing and free higher education. They figured out some basic concepts that still seem to elude the political powers here.

Investing in human capital helps the whole society become stronger and wealthier. Ignoring poverty weakens the country as a whole.

I was particularly put-off from the Denver Voice’s “distributors” one day when a man who offered to tell me about it was summarily ignored , by your truly as I do most “offers” encountered along 16th Street, and as soon as I had cleared ten feet – he barked out “b!tch!” I was taken aback and turned around sharply only to see him disappear around a corner, down another street.

What was this animosity? Am I now expected to stop during my workday and give money when asked?

It caused me to do some research on the business practices employed by the Denver Voice. I found it to be a whole hearted organization with solid principles and a sound motive and relatively zero profit margin. Unknowns can pick up some newspapers and make a 75% profit margin for their labor. I was almost in tears seeing some of the stories produced by this up and up non-profit organization and publication. Check out some of the details about the Denver Voice.

According to the demographic studies, this problem will become a living nightmare once the whole baby boomer generation retires, as they are already starting to. I do not intend to spend my whole life struggling just to feed, clothe and house those who’ve come before me and those who will come after, and I shouldn’t have to. I could bore you to tears with case studies of GNP per capita predictions and charts of population growth around the world, but just trust me.

We have it better than most, still, but if things keep going like they are, we won’t for long. 16th Street in Denver is just the tip of the iceberg. The taxes are going up, but the benefits remain out of reach to those who need them most. Even homelessness has become a business.

I saw a demonstration in Civic Park this weekend. The students from Chapparal High School were part of a group that marched from Civic Center Park to Cheeseman Park Saturday afternoon. They spent the night there Saturday writing letters to the children soldiers in Uganda allegedly being forced to fight.

They are committed to the cause of what’s known as “the invisible children.” A fantastic gathering in the park of activists shouting and waving homemade signage for the children in Africa. I wonder why it’s so easy for these people to rally for kids they’d never seen before when they probably had to step over homeless people sleeping in that park to conduct their rally.

They must’ve spent hundreds of hours collectively putting together their signs and media kits and organizing themselves for this event, probably planned it all out several weeks ago. They will be happy to take the money they generate and donate it to some organization that will squander most of the collected sums on administrative cost and political bribes if they even get anything that far.

I applaud all people that want to help better society. I wonder why only foreign issues seem to inspire people. Is it because the issues here, sitting in our very streets are too complicated or cause too many reflections and even doubt, that the system we live under may not be the best one. It s a lot harder to be inspired when what we do and put up with on a daily basis causes hunger and pain as great as that in “starving war torn countries” in our own backyard. Is it just media inspired follow in the footsteps mob- mentality that causes humanitarian aid to be funneled across borders in every direction when a few hours spent with at-risk children in our own community would do a lot more substantial good.

It is easier to fight for a cause abroad because it’s intangible, thus justifiably “right.” It’s as cut and dried as the professional photographs of bloated bellies and flies. There’s no complication to the donator and very little effort in giving a few dollars, yet he or she glows with the goodness that they have contributed to the universe. It’s certainly not a bad way to go if easing your conscience is the objective. Those few dollars fund a lot of good works but in many cases, far too many, they pad administrative and political takes and leave astoundingly little for the intended recipient.

People who are worried about the strength and future of this country, while they buy Nike sneakers made by Vietnamese children in sweatshops, can donate to charitable organizations funding programs in remote sections of the world that have a heart rending news-story and some high profile media featured video footage or celebrity backing. It’s a whole lot more hip to give some money than it is to get your hands dirty in the complicated messy poverty we have going on right here. But who has time for that?

After having just watched “Sicko” for the first time (sorry I was overseas the summer of 2007 enjoying a month of paid vacation only 4 months after starting a new job in the Czech Republic), I was dumbfounded by the particular apathy people of inadequate means suffered when trying to receive medical treatment.

Struck by the cruelty and malicious treatment American citizens receive from large bureaucratic “businesses” such as hospitals, pharmaceutical enterprise and insurance companies, I am starting to understand how a person could fall into the trap of “homelessness.”

Luckily there are some organizations closer to home that do offer assistance to help people get off the streets. The Colorado Coalition for homeless offers assistance with housing and provides for basic human necessities. Some other non-profit enterprises such as Denver Voice and Urban Peak’s Denver Road Home provide services to youth and volunteer services or small enterprises that allow people to help themselves.

United Way and Denver Rescue Mission are outstanding organizations offering help to those who need it. They offer services provided by parochial and government organizations. One new women’s shelter called Gathering Place provides a place to spend time constructively though not a place to sleep for women in need. The mission of The Gathering Place is to support women and their children experiencing homelessness or poverty by providing a safe daytime refuge and resources for self-sufficiency.

For 20 years, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless Statewide Conference has served as an essential link for professionals who deliver services for persons experiencing homelessness, while emphasizing learning opportunities, advocacy and information exchange.

Hundreds of participants – homeless service providers, health care and social service professionals, affordable housing developers, community and business leaders, legislators, government representatives, educators and students, philanthropists, members of the media, interested individuals and formerly homeless persons – take part in the Conference each year.

For directions and information on busing, biking or catching light rail to the Convention Center, please click here. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has provided a limited number of scholarships for homeless and formerly homeless individuals and homeless service providers.

All in all, my endeavors to understand the pain and the frustration cause by this newly emerging homeless class and the businesses that cause it as well as those that try to help or prevent it has been an awakening. While universally poor health care and education contribute more problems at an alarming rate, private and state-funded organizations try to combat the worst of the “symptoms” of this epidemic.


may 9, 2009