Denver, CO

Tenants in homeless housing get evicted, too

David Heitz

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People living in housing provided by Colorado Coalition for the Homeless risk eviction for lease violations the same as anyone else who rents from a landlord. In the year I’ve lived in Coalition housing, I’ve seen several evictions.

There is a big misconception based on online comments from Denverites that homeless people get “free housing.” That’s not true. They pay 30 percent of their income for rent. They get kicked out when they don’t.

Some homeless people don’t have an income. Rent is free for those people while case managers try to find them an income, be it employment or state benefits. Others collect Social Security or state Aid to the Needy and Disabled, also known as AND. Still others get a state old age pension.

When residents must leave, my heart breaks for them as I see their belongings in the parking lot. If you get kicked out of housing for the homeless, you’re really going to have problems renting an apartment down the road. The Coalition overlooks previous lease violations including evictions.

Recently, a resident was evicted who I will call Jack. Jack is a great guy sober, but he struggles with drug addiction. In recent days, he had begun to talk to an imaginary girlfriend. He also was tinkering all the time in his room, making a lot of noise. He always was working on the door to his room.

The final straw was when he stole another resident’s wheelchair and took it for a joy ride. He was out just days later.

Some abandon units for the streets

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Some people don’t get evicted, but they abandon their apartment for days at a time. Some can’t stay away from the streets, for whatever reason. They often hop on the light rail and go downtown to their old lives.

The units here take a beating. One woman recently painted her windows black. Several windows have been broken, with one man throwing his television out the window once.

“Are you going to write the story about the homeless coalition making people homeless?” asked a resident I called Bill. I ran into Bill at a neighbor’s house. He told me had been evicted.

“I mean, I’m an addict, I never should have been given all that money,” Bill said of his Social Security check. He was behind on rent at the time of his eviction, he said.

The other heartbreaking thing about evictions is watching the other tenants rummage through an evicted person’s stuff. Most people evicted from here go back to the streets.

That’s what Bill did. He said he has found a spot nearby that’s good for an encampment. Nobody seems to know where Jack went.

Most evicted for not paying rent

There are several other people who have been evicted, mostly for not paying their rent. They tend to come back after they lose their unit to visit old neighbors.

While addiction plays a role in not being able to manage one’s money, many people experiencing homeless also suffer from financial illiteracy.

Financially illiterate people need extra help with money management. “The road to building and maintaining assets is lined with challenges for populations experiencing homelessness,” according to an online brief by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “For some, unemployment limits opportunities for building financial assets. For others, poor or inadequate credit closes the door to traditional banking services, which may force them to rely on businesses that offer check cashing services or payday loans that come with high interest rates, fees, and penalties.

“In some instances, homelessness service providers will offer financial literacy workshops, covering such basics as budgeting and balancing a checkbook, but fail to further develop a client’s expertise or opportunities for asset building, such as failing to provide assistance with opening bank accounts to utilize these new skills.

“Regardless of whether a person experiencing homelessness is housed or employed, the ability to build and maintain assets is a crucial component of achieving financial security, which can facilitate housing stability.”

Timebanks a way to earn services

According to the brief, there are programs in place to help homeless people struggling to open a bank account. One is called Bank On, and it provides banking services at reduced rates. According to its website, the service is available in Denver.

Another way to escape being mired in a financial abyss and facing eviction is to consider time banking. “Timebanking is a kind of money,” according to TimeBank.org. “Give one hour of service to another and receive one time credit. For one person to earn a time credit, however, someone else has to agree to give it. Timebanking happens when a network or circle of members have agreed that they will give and receive credits for services that other members provide.”

The networks are called “timebanks” and they can be a good start for getting people back on a solid financial footing.

Timebanks offer job experience

First, although time banking is by nature unpaid work, it can provide meaningful experience that is based on an individual’s existing strengths and experiences,” according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Second, especially for those who are housed either permanently or transitionally, time banking can be used to build skills and networks that lead to compensated employment. Third, time banking can help facilitate successful reintegration back into the community by affirming the perception that the individual is a contributing member of society.

“Fourth, an individual who performs services is entitled to receive services in return, which can help a person or family experiencing homelessness overcome some of the barriers they might face. Services might include babysitting, carpooling, tax preparation assistance, home cleaning, and any other service a community member has the ability to offer.”

Financial literacy must be taught

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It seems financial literacy and the importance of paying one’s rent should be required lessons for everyone who enters homeless housing. What good is getting people off the streets without showing them the skills needed to stay off the streets?

The importance of taking one’s mental health medication also must be reinforced. Many people get released from jail or the state mental hospital to homeless housing. Some stop taking their medications and spiral out of control quickly.

My neighbor, who I had spent time in the state mental hospital with, immediately stopped taking his medications the day we moved in. I know this because he told me so.

Without meds, psychosis prevails

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I am not sure whether he did not receive regular visits from a psychiatrist, as I do, or if the psychiatrist simply was unable to convince him to take his medications. I see my psychiatrist once a week. She is pretty persistent that we meet each week, usually for an hour. I receive excellent mental health care. I wish my neighbor had, too.

My neighbor spiraled into a deep psychosis, mostly screaming and jerking in duress at all hours, seldom eating, and never sleeping. One night he never returned to his room (he would scour the area for cigarette butts at night). I assume the police picked him up given how he was acting, but I don’t know that for sure. Today, a demand of $4,000 in rent is taped on his door.

All that time spent stabilizing someone with mental illness goes down the drain when they don’t take their medication. And unmedicated, issues inevitably arise surrounding housing.

Medication monitoring and financial literacy should be important pillars for helping formerly homeless people stay housed.

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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 newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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