Denver, CO

Civic Center homeless lunch line on hold despite park's re-opening

David Heitz

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Founded by a pastor who loved bars, After Hours passes out lunches daily to people experiencing homelessness.Photo courtesy After Hours

Despite the reopening of Civic Center Park, the daily homeless lunch line that has long been a noontime fixture at the park isn’t returning.

At least not right away.

In an interview with NewsBreak, a representative of the group who sponsors the line explains why. “For the moment we’re not jumping right back in at Civic Center,” said Logan Robertson, director of After Hours, which runs the line. “After the library found they had folks coming in hungry with the park shut down we started taking lunches there. I do want to get back into the park, but we don’t want to rush it.”

City officials closed the park because it became infested with rats and was littered with needles and human feces. The park long has been a popular place for homeless people during the daytime hours.

For that reason, the homeless lunch line at the park always proved popular, too. Every day at noon, when the City Hall clock tolls 12 bells, the lengthy line begins to move. Communion used to be served, but After Hours has stopped that for now.

“We want to give communion but with COVID we have been hesitant to get back to it,” Robertson told NewsBreak. “Right now, new transmission numbers in Colorado are trending up so we’ll wait on serving communion for the time being. I think it’s an important part of our presence in the park.

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After Hours has stopped serving communion during its lunches because of the COVID-19 epidemic.Photo courtesy After Hours

“We’re there to provide lunches, be friendly, communicate some dignity, and let people know God loves them. Communion, lunches, and simple presence are all part of that. Regarding the fruit of the vine part of the communion table: we use grape juice.”

My own experience with After Hours

I experienced homelessness in 2019. I frequented the After Hours line at Civic Center Park because they always were there, seven days a week, even on holidays. The line also remained calm and orderly. A noon lunch line at Auraria Campus also fed people experiencing homelessness, but sometimes fights broke out in that line. I felt safer at the Civic Center Park line.

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People experiencing homelessness line up at Civic Center Park for lunch. After Hours now takes the lunches to the library, in background.Photo courtesy After Hours

At Civic Center Park, After Hours passed out sack lunches that contained granola bars, chips and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If they had enough, you could go through the line twice.

The library, located next to the park, also is a popular daytime spot for homeless people. The computer center is especially popular. The library also has social workers on staff who assist people experiencing homelessness with a variety of things.

Christmas party an outpouring of generosity

Besides the daily lunch line, After Hours provides other services, such as a long underwear giveaway for people experiencing homelessness at Thanksgiving and an annual Christmas party. The party used to be held in Civic Center Park. This year, it will be held across the street at Veterans Park.

The Christmas party is a huge event where everything from food to sleeping bags to brand new coats are given to people experiencing homelessness. The line begins very early in the morning for the popular Christmas party.

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Even Santa Claus attends the After Hours Christmas party for people experiencing homelessness.Photo courtesy After Hours

I had just become homeless around Christmas 2019, and I attended the After Hours party. It really lifted my spirits to see such a fuss made over people experiencing homelessness. I received more gifts at that Christmas party than I did when I was not experiencing homelessness.

‘A bit of an odd duck’

The pastors who comprise After Hours get support from an unlikely ally – Denver bars. They hold fundraisers at various bars around Denver and post them on their Facebook page.

“We are a bit of an odd duck,” the After Hours website explains. “We are a church that owns no properties and meets in bars to talk faith, support one another, and to be the hands of Jesus in a very tangible way, making lunches for Denver’s unhoused.”

It all began with the Rev. Jerry Herships, who previously worked as a comedian and bartender. Herships was drawn to be a clergyman “after feeling that the connections he made with his customers at the bar were often more real and deeper than anything he’d experienced in a church,” according to the website. “Jerry decided the church and the bar could each learn a lot from one another, so he decided to bring these worlds together.”

Serving lunch to homeless since 2009

While serving as a pastor at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, Herships founded the lunch line in 2009.

In 2019, a new pastor and director began to head up After Hours. “That person was Rev. Dr. Tyler Kaufmann,” the website explains. “In need of a break from traditional church setting Tyler moved to Colorado intending to manage a coffee shop awhile holding small group faith studies in bars and coffee shops. He let leaders of the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church know his plans and was eventually invited to become After Hours’ next leader.”

Today, Robertson heads the group. “Most recently Logan has served as assistant to the director at Network Coffee House, a hospitality house not far from Civic Center Park, where the focus is on building long-term redemptive relationships with folks who make their home on the street,” according to the website. “Logan has also worked in advocacy, organizing for innovative approaches to housing and service on behalf of our friends on the street and against the criminalization of homelessness.”

How to help After Hours

After Hours currently is having its annual fundraising campaign. Its annual Christmas Shindig will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Irish Rover bar.

For those who want to support After Hours, the organization always could use some hep preparing lunches. “Anyone who feels called to make lunches is more than welcome to join us in one of the bars we meet in,” Robertson told NewsBreak. “Our schedule is on our website and also published on social media. You don’t have to stay for our community time following lunch making. Some folks make lunches, say ‘hi’ then go. It’s show up how you feel comfortable.”

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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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