Denver, CO

Opinion: Coffee a treat for homeless people

David Heitz

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There’s magic in cups of hot coffee.

National Coffee Day is Thursday. I love coffee. I had my first cup as a tot. My mom always let me drink it with her and by the time I was 8 I was drinking coffee every day.

I’ve never stopped. I’ve given up cigarettes and even alcohol. But I’d never give up coffee.

The origins of National Coffee Day remain a mystery. It likely was created to sell coffee.

The best cups of coffee I ever had never cost me a dime. During homelessness, coffee perked me up each day. Several places in Denver serve homeless people coffee. Cathedral Basilica proved my favorite place to get a cup of coffee during homelessness.

The other day during a chat with my neighbor, Theresa, I mentioned how a good cup of coffee could change our whole outlook, at least for a little while. Theresa experienced homelessness when I did. We met in the coffee line at Cathedral Basilica and now we both live in Fusion Studios, a Colorado Coalition for the Homeless property.

Theresa told me she still visits the coffee line at Cathedral Basilica now and then. She said she misses her friends from the street.

Coffee you could count on: Cathedral Basilica

I have not been back to the coffee line since being housed. But I can see why Theresa would miss it.

During homelessness, the 8 a.m. coffee line at Cathedral Basilica was a constant. Dave from the Knights of Columbus would lift the garage door in the alley just as the bell tower struck 8, every Monday through Friday.

Something about coffee gets people talking. The caffeine, I suppose. I remember every morning talking to a guy named Max who I did not believe was homeless. During Christmas, he had a battery-operated lighted Christmas tree atop the cart he pushed. He had a friend who expressed kindness to everyone, whereas Max had rough edges. But both of them provided good conversation each day.

I also met several really smart transgender people.

Homeless estranged from their families

I learned a little bit about their lives. Some shared sad stories. Kay grew up in a very religious family and her parents did not accept her. She fled as soon as she was able. This person had a disability and the streets had to be uncomfortable. You wonder how people end up separated from their families, but I share the same story. You meet a lot of people whose parents both are dead, like mine. My dad never would have let me become homeless.

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I always found Cathedral Basilica to feel safe. I often fell asleep on the bench inside the courtyard (not on purpose).

Coffee in David’s Tent

When I first became homeless, I would go to Church in the City Beth Abraham, which would open “David’s Tent” at 6 a.m. David’s Tent is a community room in the basement of the church. Church basement ladies would serve coffee and a hearty breakfast certain days of the week.

I learned of Church in the City Beth Abraham from two guys I met in Aurora. I tried to stay at a shelter in Aurora, but it was always full. Denver shelters felt unsafe.

Auraria Campus: Coffee and lunch

St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church on Auraria campus also served coffee every morning. But the line at Auraria Campus could be really rough. I didn’t always feel safe going there. I often thought the volunteers deserved sainthood for some of the verbal abuse they put up with.

But on bitterly cold days, Auraria campus always was there. They serve lunch in addition to morning coffee. Every day. Without them I would have gone hungry many times.

According to the church website, volunteers brew about 60 cups of coffee per day. More than 120 sandwiches feed the hungry, as well as two giant pots of soup – enough to feed 200 hungry people.

Coffee and pancakes together

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Coffee and pancakes go together like salt and pepper. So wouldn’t you know that pancake day is this week, too – Monday. There’s also a pancake day in March.

At Christ’s Body, 850 Lincoln, people experiencing homelessness can enjoy pancakes and coffee on Fridays from 8:30-9:30 a.m. They have the friendliest staff of all the homeless services providers and many longtime employees and volunteers. I always felt absolutely welcome at Christ’s Body and would leave with a full belly and a warm heart.

Life is hard when you are homeless. A hot cup of coffee and some pleasant people to talk to can make the difference between a good and bad day.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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