Denver, CO

Opinion: Housed drunks harass homeless but some encampment dwellers disrespectful

David Heitz
Photo byDenver Homeless Out Loud

Few issues bring out the anger in Denver homeowners like homeless encampments. It is understandable that people don’t want a view of tents, garbage and people doing drugs from their $556,125 Denver bungalows. That’s the median price of a home in Denver, according to Forbes.

But people experiencing homelessness often must tolerate abuse from those who own property. Homeowners often belittle these total strangers with whom they share a neighborhood.

So, what can be done about the animosity between the haves and have nots? For starters, there needs to be mutual respect for one another as human beings. It is only human to fear things with which we are not familiar. But it should also be only human to respect law and order.

Once a homeowner, I detested tents

I can see both sides of the coin when it comes to complaints about homeless encampments. I lived in a homeless encampment for a while. I also once owned a lovely home. And there is no way I would have tolerated tents full of people and strewn garbage at the end of my driveway. I would have been on the horn to the police night and day. There was a house down the street from me when I lived in Illinois that had tents in the back yard. That even freaked me out.
I once owned this modest but lovely home in Rock Island, Ill. I took pride in my property and expected others to do the same.Photo byDavid Heitz

People experiencing homelessness should not defecate in the streets. There are other private places to go. Many use a bucket. Then the waste can be disposed of. It is understandable that people living next to encampments are repulsed by feces on the streets, even though they shouldn’t be surprised. There is a dearth of public restrooms in the city.

I have lived a mostly privileged life. Before I experienced homelessness, I never really knew struggle. I was one of those people who never made eye contact with the unhoused. I was ignorant.

Nobody wants to be an addict, mentally ill

But people experiencing homelessness need to understand that those who own property worked hard for it. Yelling, playing loud music and fighting in a residential neighborhood is rude and disrespectful. Who does that?

For sure, people with mental illness yell a lot, as did I. I believe everyone who is experiencing homelessness has a duty to get on Medicaid and seek mental health treatment. If someone didn’t need mental health treatment before homelessness, they probably will need it during and after.

Sadly, those who live homeless encampments often do suffer from untreated mental illness and drug abuse. This makes their behavior erratic. Many come from broken homes and never were taught manners. It’s a generational way of life.

Drugs should be out of sight, smell

Many homeowners don’t understand or have much sympathy for those battling drug addiction and mental illness. But I can tell you nobody wants to be hearing voices or openly using drugs. All people yearn to be respectful or at least be treated with respect. I am mortified by my behavior during homelessness and even wrote a column apologizing for it.
Photo byJaroslav Devia/Unsplash

People living in encampments should not be openly using drugs. They can hide in their tents and get their fix. Better yet, consider homelessness a new rock bottom and seek treatment. What if a small child sees someone puffing on a meth bubble? Or hears people using profanities and vulgarities during a street fight? Nobody would want their child exposed to that.

Homeowners could stand to learn a few things about addiction. There are reasons people experiencing homelessness sometimes get hooked on meth. For starters, falling asleep can be dangerous on the street.

Homeowners use drugs, too

I remember living in the encampment outside Salvation Army Crossroads homeless shelter. There were expensive condos right down the street. Encampment dwellers and homeowners mingled. On more than one occasion nearby homeowners would wander into the encampments looking to buy drugs. I am being completely serious.

Not all homeless people use drugs. I was sober when I was homeless with the exception of medical marijuana. I drank alcohol a few times during homelessness, and it was a disaster. I worked very hard to give up cigarettes and alcohol several years before I became homeless.

Don’t be afraid of one another

Homeowners who encounter people experiencing homelessness could try a few things to be more neighborly. First, don’t avoid eye contact with the encampment dwellers. Say hello as you would to anyone you might pass on the street.
Photo byZac Durant/Unsplash

Don’t act afraid of the encampment dwellers. This insults them, as they probably are more afraid of you. After all, if you complain to the city their “home” likely is to be bulldozed. The encampment dwellers, on the other hand, should tone down the fighting and the profanity if they don’t want the police called. Open-air drug use is akin to begging for trouble. Defecating in the street is gross. Encampment dwellers should be afraid their housed neighbors will report them if they can’t demonstrate common courtesy.

Inebriated homeowners rude to homeless

And just as bad as encampment dwellers who smoke drugs in public are homeowners who roam the neighborhood angry and drunk, often showing off for their mate. Encampment dwellers will tell you that much of housed Denver has a drinking problem. Drunk men and women in designer clothes frequently harass people experience homelessness, especially in LoDo. They will sneer “Get a job” as they walk past and usually laugh loudly at those down on their luck.

Drunks are mean, especially privileged ones. If a person can’t handle their alcohol, maybe they shouldn’t leave that house they work so hard for.

I remember a spot where I used to sleep. It was along an underpass that people coming home from downtown Denver bars would stumble.
I used to sleep along this underpass, a popular path home for those who frequented downtown Denver bars.Photo byDenver Homeless Out Loud

Nothing in common but humanity

Both homeowners and encampment dwellers would be wise to blow a little sunshine each other’s way. Treat each other with courtesy. Forget that on the surface you have nothing in common. Realize that the chasm between the haves and the have nots is vast. But remember we all are human and have feelings. Try smiling at one another now and then instead of darting your eyes away.

If homeowners and unhoused neighbors made small talk and got to know one another, it would be less acrimonious. All unhoused people have a backstory. There is a good chance someone living in an encampment has experienced fortune in the past. In fact, homeowners likely have far more in common with some people experiencing homelessness than they care to know.

Homeless people lose everything. And I believe that is the greatest fear the homeowners have when they encounter the encampment dwellers – the fear it could happen to them. Don’t let that fear turn into anger, or hatred. Instead, homeowners should try to get to know their struggling neighbors. People experiencing homelessness should do the same with those who seem to have it all.

Understanding extinguishes fear. The flames of controversy burning up the homeless encampment issue could be doused if both sides got to know each other. And respected one another.

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 72

Published by

I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California 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 proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. 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 in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

More from David Heitz

Comments / 0