Denver, CO

When homeless in Denver, eyes take a beating

David Heitz

Artificial intelligence assisted the author in crafting this story.

A while ago I wrote an article about how homelessness wreaks havoc on a person’s teeth. I described how Colorado Coalition for the Homeless assists people experiencing homelessness in having their teeth cleaned, fixed, and even replaced.

Homelessness is incredibly harsh on the eyes, too. Consider what a homeless person must live with:

Dry eye. Many homeless people smoke, be it cigarettes, meth, marijuana, fentanyl, or something else. Smoke dries out the eyes. So does simply living in Denver’s semi-arid climate. Bring along a dust devil and a homeless person experiences a whole new level of pain as dirt pelts their eyeballs. Dry eye also can be brought on by the poor diets homeless people eat. Eating a diet low in vitamin A, which is found in liver, carrots, and broccoli, or low in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, walnuts, and vegetable oils, can bring upon dry eye, according to Mayo Clinic. People experiencing homelessness also are subjected to smoke from wildfires, not just for a small portion of the day like most housed people, but all day long.

I frequently suffered from die eye during homelessness. My eyes were constantly stinging. My vision always was blurry. The dust devils proved worse than Satan

The blinding Denver sun. According to the National Eye Institute, the sun puts off powerful UV light that can damage eyes. “UV light is a form of electromagnetic radiation,” according to the Eye Institute. “It is invisible to the human eye because of its very short wavelength. Only a very small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum is visible to the human eye as light….UV light more easily penetrates eye tissues than visible light, potentially increasing the risk of eye problems.”

Uncorrected refractive errors. Refractive errors, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, are very common among homeless people. However, many homeless people do not have access to glasses or contact lenses to correct their vision. This can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, such as reading, driving, and finding work.

Eye infections. In this era of “no public restrooms,” homeless people have difficulty finding running water. As a result, they seldom get to wash their hands while at the same time being subjected to communal facilities everywhere they go. This leads to developing eye infections, such as conjunctivitis (pink eye) and keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), according to Mayo Clinic. This is due to their exposure to dirt, dust, and other irritants, as well as their weakened immune systems. Eye infections can cause pain, redness, and vision problems,

Trauma. Homeless people occasionally get punched in the face. Homeless people are more likely to experience eye trauma, such as injuries to the cornea or retina. This can be caused by assaults, accidents, or exposure to violence. Eye trauma can lead to serious vision problems or even blindness.

‘Strong link’ between homelessness, eye health

Other eye diseases. Homeless people are also more likely to develop other eye diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration, according to a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology. This is due to a number of factors, including poor nutrition, smoking, and lack of access to healthcare. These eye diseases can lead to vision loss or blindness.

In addition to the physical effects, homelessness can also have a significant impact on a person's mental health. This can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, which can further exacerbate eye problems.

“The data demonstrate a major unmet need and highlight the strong link between homelessness and poor ocular health,” the study concludes. ”Although these findings are worrisome, targeting interventions to mitigate these issues presents an opportunity to improve the ocular health of this vulnerable population. We believe that further community outreach will be required to address these inequities.”

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless provides vision care

That’s where the good news comes in. Colorado Coalition for the Homeless provides vision care. “Stout Street Health Center Eye Clinic provides preventative and corrective vision care to adults and children experiencing homelessness regardless of insurance coverage,” according to the CCH website. “As a volunteer-based organization, the Eye Clinic provides compassionate and professional service in a state-of-the-art facility.”

Services offered include:

  • Comprehensive eye exams with dilation.
  • Yearly eye exams for diabetic patients.
  • New glasses every two years for patients who require significant correction (For patients with an eyeglass prescription less than two years old, the Eye Clinic may be able to make glasses without an appointment).
  • Glaucoma testing.
  • Patient advocacy and navigation for specialty referrals and surgeries.
  • Complete optical services, repairs, and adjustments.
  • Patient education regarding eye disease.
  • Reading glasses.

Eyeglasses destroyed on street

I twice received eyeglasses from the Stout Street Clinic during homelessness. Unfortunately, I was beaten up and my eyeglasses destroyed within one week of receiving them both times. Such is life on the street. Hopefully others smart enough to access vision care during homelessness can hold onto theirs.

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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

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