Denver, CO

Here’s what homeless people in Denver do all day

David Heitz

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Somebody asked me once what homeless people do all day long.

Well, they don’t lounge around sipping cocktails poolside. Basically, homeless people fight for survival every day. They spend their hours searching for food and for places to go where they can feel inconspicuous and safe.

When you don’t have a home, where do you go?

You go anywhere people will let you sit down. If you can find a place to sit down and not be shooed away by a security guard, it’s a good day. Because when you’re homeless, you may as well wear a sign over your head that says, “I’m not allowed here,” especially if you have a suitcase, backpack, sleeping bag, or tattered clothes.

There are a few places in Denver that exist for the very reason of giving homeless people a place to sit during the day. They’re called day shelters. Some day shelters employ social workers that hook homeless people up with services, such as help obtaining identification, shelter, and substance abuse treatment.

Here’s a look at Denver’s day shelters for the homeless.

St. Francis Center, 2323 Curtis St. St. Francis Center is the largest day shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Denver. Most people who use St. Francis go there to take a shower and check their mail.

St. Francis offers an address and P.O. boxes which homeless people can use. There also are phones available. Local and long-distance calls are free, but only one phone is available for long-distance calls and you are limited to two calls daily. The calls must be made in front of everyone; there is no privacy. The lines for the phones can be exceptionally long.

I used to go to St. Francis every day to take a shower. Sometimes the shower area would be beyond filthy, with scum and slime on the floor and hundreds of bugs on the ceiling. Often there was no attendant present.

I didn’t feel safe.

People should not work with the homeless if they don’t respect them. A couple of employees at St. Francis were incredibly rude and nasty to everyone. Once, when I reported a man proclaiming white supremacy, an employee told me “it’s none of your business” and threw me out. She wanted me to exit out the back door. This hateful woman has worked there for years.

I left out the front door. I never went back. I was threatened many times at St. Francis by people inebriated by drugs and alcohol.

At St. Francis, it’s common to sit down (if you’re lucky enough to find a spot) and then someone comes along and tells you it was their spot. You can either get up or face a fist fight.

It’s not worth it.

There are dedicated employees at St. Francis, too. I can think of two men who keep the place under control when they are there. But when they’re not there, St. Francis can be a dangerous place.

Open Door Ministries, 1530 N. Marion St. Open Door Fellowship doubles as a pre-school, which is held in another part of the building. Homeless people are allowed inside the “Family Room” area of the building for coffee and to rest.

Several social workers staff the Family Room at Open Door. They operate under a federal substance abuse and mental health services grant. Some of them are kind and helpful. They understand that most homeless people have been through unthinkable trauma.

But at times the people hanging out at Open Door could be rough, much like at St. Francis. Many shot up drugs in the restroom, so it always was occupied. I would walk all the way to Open Door only to find a closed door on the restroom.

I was mistaken for someone else twice at Open Door by intoxicated people and threatened. I generally did not feel safe there. I felt like staff did not have the place under control.

The social workers at Open Door frequently discussed liberal politics and made it no secret they disliked President Trump. Whether you liked him or not, bashing him at the homeless day shelter all day long never accomplished anything. Homeless people are angry enough as it is. Bringing up politics is not a good idea.

I once went to Open Door terribly upset and borderline suicidal. I remember the social worker asking me if I wanted any razors.

I never went back.

Christ’s Body Ministries, 850 Lincoln. This is the only homeless day shelter in Denver that I recommend. The men who supervise this shelter have been at their jobs a long time. They have the respect of the people who frequent the shelter.

The shelter plays KLOVE Christian pop music on the radio. There always is coffee. You can get a light breakfast most days, and on Fridays there’s a pancake gala. The pancake breakfast always draws a large crowd (about 100 people) on Friday mornings. The pastor delivers an inspiring message before breakfast.

There is a clothing closet at Christ’s Body that had large sizes while other places did not. There also are prayer groups at the shelter.

I always got the feeling that everyone at Christ’s Body cared deeply about their clients. I can honestly say that the people who worked there always offered a smile and a helping hand.

I went to Christ’s Body a couple of times extremely despondent. One of the employees prayed with me once and made me feel a lot better. He offered a glimmer of hope on a very dark day.

I highly recommend Christ’s Body as a place to go for a reprieve for anyone experiencing homelessness.

Haven of Hope, formerly Father Woody’s House of Hope, 1101 W. 7th Ave. I never have been to this day shelter, but I’m told it’s clean and well-managed. The shelter offers post office boxes for mail. I have been told the showers are much cleaner than those at St. Francis.

Haven of Hope recently opened a new eye clinic. They also offer laundry services, phones, and a four-course lunch. Haven of Hope closes in the afternoon.

This shelter always was too far away for me. When you’re homeless, getting a bus or train pass can be almost impossible. Riding the trains without a pass can be risky; you can be trespassed if caught.

I almost never had a bus or a train pass, so I only went to Father Woody’s once. It was closed that day due to a power outage after a snowstorm.

The notion that homeless people lounge around all day or have a carefree lifestyle could not be further from the truth. Sadly, the resources available to help homeless people often do not feel safe to them.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO
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