Denver, CO

Colorado lifts grateful journalist from homelessness

David Heitz

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When I first became homeless, I hung out often near Union Station.JJ Shev/Unsplash

As someone who moved to Denver from Illinois three years ago, I understand transplants aren’t very welcome here.

A popular opinion is that Denver is too crowded as it is. More transplants just mean more trouble, Denverites reason.

But I wonder if people in Denver know how much some transplants appreciate being here. Despite being told to “Go back to California” and being called every name in the book, especially in the online comments of my stories, I want my haters to know how grateful I am to be here.

“Go back to California” is a common mantra among Denverites. People have left California to move to Colorado in droves. I lived 10 years in the Los Angeles basin from 1992 until 2002. I then moved back to Illinois to care for my father, who had dementia.

Haunted by untreated bipolar disorder, PTSD

When my father died, I moved to Denver. I did so because I felt I had no friends or family left in Rock Island, Ill. When my dad died, several terrible things happened to me during my grief. My house was shot up twice when I wrote about missing persons and human trafficking.

I also began to have mental health episodes after a doctor changed the bipolar medication I had been on for 15 years. The psychosis led to run-ins with police. In Illinois and Colorado police assaulted me while I was in a state of duress. In Illinois, police searched my house without a warrant trying to find an explanation for my behavior at my dad’s memory care facility.

I went to his facility one day already diagnosed with PTSD on top of my bipolar, and I thought I saw a criminal in my dad’s room. I began to holler, “Call 911!” but when police came, they beat me, put me on a mental health hold and threw me into jail.

No love lost for Illinois

I have no love lost for my hometown in Illinois. You may recognize it from the movie “Road to Perdition” starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. I no longer felt safe there. I sold my home, which was paid for, and moved to Denver on a whim and under complete duress.

Unfortunately, I did not seek mental health treatment when I arrived in Denver. I continued to spiral into psychosis, not medicated, and eventually became homeless.

It hurt me very much when I got here because some people were so unfriendly. I initially lived in Glendale, which is a very strange and unfriendly place, in my opinion. It’s one square mile of weirdness. I had been through so much. I just wanted peace.

‘Go back to California’

And eventually, I did get help. I don’t think I ever would have been helped in Illinois.

I heard a joke about Illinois the other day. “Some people actually have to live there” was the punchline.

I’m glad I don’t live there anymore. I am so grateful to be in Colorado and Denver, in particular.

I have begun to rebuild my life after some exceedingly difficult years after my father’s death in 2015. I moved to Denver at the end of 2018.

I want people in Denver to know how grateful I am to be here. Colorado is wealthy compared to many states and, yes, there is a lot of government help here for people who need it.

I was not strung out on drugs when I became homeless. I was not a drinker.

I was a person with bipolar disorder who had been taken off their medicine and no longer knew up from down.

Homeless wandering streets, hearing voices

I want to take a minute to apologize to everyone in Denver for my behavior while in a psychotic state. When I became homeless, I would wander the streets day and night. I thought I could hear people talking about me, and I was haunted by it. I would accuse people of all kinds of things, and usually was in a state of rage. A couple of times I tipped over trash receptacles. I used profanity a lot.

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Sometimes in the middle of the night, a homeless person would start to play the piano on 16th Street Mall.Peter Pryharski/Unsplash

The truth is, I don’t even know that person. I can’t fathom I ever acted that way and am deeply embarrassed. I used to e-mail the entire Denver City Council about my experiences during homelessness, and I’m sure some of the emails came off a bit nasty.

The City Council did not deserve that, and I apologize to each one of them. Two of 13 council members responded to my emails. They were Robin Kniech and Debbie Ortega. Kniech explained how to fill out a police brutality complaint, and Ortega tried to hook me up with mental health services at Mental Health Center Denver.

Instead of using the resource that Ortega provided, I blasted her for pointing out my mental illness. After viewing Denver City Council meetings for a year, I know now that Ortega is a nice person who only was trying to help me. I apologize to Ortega and the entire City Council for any inappropriate emails I sent at that time. I was nowhere near myself. I was in a state of acute psychosis.

An apology to downtown Denver residents

I want to apologize to all the residents of downtown Denver who would listen to me scream in the middle of the night while walking the streets. People would scream, “Shut up!” out the windows. I would babble profanities and act delusional.

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I often rode Free Mall Ride day and night during the winter to stay warm.Eric Frances/Unsplash

Imagine feeling like you had no friends or family, and on top of it having nowhere to rest. You begin to feel isolated and lose touch with reality. You lose all hope.

People being nasty to you doesn’t help but getting nasty back doesn’t help either.

I want people in Denver to know that not everyone who gets help here has been a drug addict their whole life. Some of us have held prestigious jobs at one time or another and mental illness got the best of us. I once lived in a penthouse apartment in Detroit while working as deputy news editor of the Detroit News. In California, where I worked as a top editor for Los Angeles Times community newspapers, Press-Telegram of Long Beach and Advocate magazine, I lived near the beach.

I don’t fit any stereotypes about homeless people. When you’re homeless, it feels impossible to get out of it. You’re just trying to survive each day. Some days you get beaten up, some days your backpack gets stolen, some days police ruthlessly harass you. Imagine living with those struggles while mentally ill and without medication.

New life found in mental hospital

I am especially grateful to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, where I stayed about seven months. The institute is nationally recognized for the quality of its care. I have been in several mental hospitals, and Pueblo is by far the best. Compassionate, quality care is given. No stigma. Just a lot of understanding.

Again, I am so grateful to Pueblo.

And while I am not a fan of the police officers in Denver who beat me up, other cops were helpful from time to time. And the bottom line is, had I not been hauled off to jail after police beat me up behind Crossroads Salvation Army homeless shelter, I never would have ended up in Pueblo.

So, in a way, I am grateful to police, too. I also want to apologize to all the deputies inside the jail who had to put up with me. I would not take my medication in the jail and would scream my head off day and night sometimes. Some of the deputies were incredibly unprofessional and abusive, but most were good people. I’m sorry they had to put up with my psychosis.

Journalist profoundly sorry

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Hello I'm Nik/Unsplash

I’m not sure what to say other than “I’m sorry.” But it feels good to say that. I truly am embarrassed about how I acted before I got help. I hope people can look past that and instead see the great journalism career I’ve had.

I hope I am now seen in Denver as a journalist who does his best to write about critical issues. I would like to think I contribute a lot to the community.

I won’t deny receiving lots of expensive help for free in Colorado, and I know that makes many readers angry. The mental hospital alone was $10,000 per month.

But I want all Colorado taxpayers to know this state brought me back to life again. Thank you for your generosity.

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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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