Loveland, CO

Could a blind woman running for Loveland city council see a better way forward for the beleaguered city?

The Colorado Switchblade

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Loveland City Council candidate for Ward 3Moses Street

Loveland, Colorado, has had its fair share of bad press lately, from civil suits arising from the shooting of puppies, to the violent arrest of an elderly dementia patient, to the shooting death of a 19-year-old mentally ill man by officers of the Loveland Police Department. 

One of the ways local communities look to make positive changes for the future is by electing new leadership to governing boards, in particular to the Loveland City Council. 

The Colorado Switchblade recently had an opportunity to talk to Penn Street, the Loveland City Council Candidate for Ward 3.

Street has always been an active participant in her community. She says she was just raised that way. 

At age 9, Street lost her vision when a rattlesnake bit her.

At age 9, Street lost her vision when a rattlesnake bit her. The anti-venom medication administered by doctors triggered a severe reaction. This resulted in a condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare skin disorder that caused 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns over 75% of her body.  Penn was subsequently treated in a burn unit. The syndrome didn't just affect her vision, but it damaged all of her soft tissue.

Street says before the snake bite, she was "a very active tomboy who wanted to grow up to be a journalist." But that ambition changed overnight. Her parents were initially told their daughter would likely not survive the night. Little did they know the strength and determination Street possessed. 

Street and her family were thrown overnight into a life with blindness and challenges.

Cast into a new reality, it quickly became apparent to Street that if she was willing to ask for and accept assistance, there were people in the community willing to help, to form and provide a support system in which she would not only survive, but flourish.

 Street was an avid reader prior to being blinded. Losing the ability to visually read a book was one of the most significant obstacles she would need to overcome. She needed to read to continue her education.

It was an act of kindness from one of her nurses that helped her make that transition. On her own accord, this nurse brought her in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book on cassette tape.  Listening to this story helped her reconnect with the written word. 

The Lion's Club International was also instrumental in helping Street and her family adapt to a life without sight.  Street would later continue to work with the organization in a leadership role as an adult. Street and her family moved to Colorado because, at the time, the Children's Hospital in Denver was the number one place in the country for the adaptive treatment she needed. 

As Street grew up, she attended the Poudre High School in Fort Collins, and while there became a volunteer at the accessibility department. which she attended. Upon graduation she was invited to work as a teacher's aide at Cooper Home, a home for students with disabilities, where she taught independent living skills. 

There was a natural progression from her high school days into her career path. Because she is a person with disabilities, it seems a natural fit that she would, in turn, do her part to try to help others. While living in Estes Park, Street became a member of the Lion's Club  and volunteered her time at the soup kitchen. 

These days, Street is currently the development and outreach director for the Audio Information Network of Colorado. This is a state-wide program with 250 volunteers who read stories from over a hundred Colorado newspapers, which is broadcasted by PBS. She has been involved in the program for over three decades. Street has benefitted from leadership training through this program.

Local city council meetings are familiar territory to Street. While a resident of Estes Park, she attended many city council meetings, where she advocated for the audible street crossings now in the downtown, as well as the crosswalk in front of the library.

Street is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind, where has lobbied for several bills passed on a national level. These experiences have helped Street to understand clearly how government functions.

Street is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind, where has lobbied for several bills passed on a national level. These experiences have helped Street to understand clearly how government functions.

Approximately 11 years ago, when Street moved from Estes Park to Loveland, she was asked to sit on the Human Service Commission. This commission is responsible for dispensing close to a million dollars’ worth of funding to non-profit agencies in Loveland. She eventually became the commission chairperson. During her tenure, she ruffled some feathers by upsetting the status quo in the Loveland City Council.

Street noticed that some of the commissioners judged the applicants based on who was bringing forward the application, but not necessarily on the proposed merits. Street worked to make this a more professional process, by instituting a professional proposal process, which essentially eliminated the good ole boy's system of cronyism that had crept into the award committee. Some Loveland City Council members weren't happy when their pet projects didn't get funded, because as Street says, “their applications were terrible.”

Politically, Street is not a big fan of term limits. "Because when your term is up, you should step down," she explains. "One of the reasons is we are a city of 80,000 people. There are a lot of incredible people in this town, and there should be room for them to run and be a part of our city government." 

This is the first time Street has taken the plunge and decided to run for city government herself. When asked what motivated her to throw her name into the mix for this election cycle, she says, "Part of it is that what happened to Karen Garner just shook me to my core. I could not believe that it happened." 

Street had been asked to run several times previously. But because she was acting in a leadership role with the Lion's Club International, she could not do so. However, her term just ended last June, freeing up more of her time for other endeavors.

When the news of the violent arrest of 73 years old dementia patient Karen Garner hit the news cycle, two separate people asked her if she would consider running while attending the 1st ever Juneteenth Celebration in Loveland. This time she says, "It just felt right to run." 

"I don't know if I am going to win in November. The competition is high because we have an incumbent, and he's a likable guy, and honestly, if I was not running, he is who I would be voting for, and I'm honest about that. 

Street says she keeps repeatedly hearing that people in Loveland are fed up with the chaos that is going on in the City Council.  People, she said, "are not being heard, not being seen, and they don't feel safe." She adds that this is not coming from one party or organization but from people throughout the the Loveland community. 

Street says what is happening currently with the Loveland Police Department is a tragedy. But she also cautions that tempers and passions are flaring on both sides, and if the people and the powers that be cannot come together and talk about these issues, the strife will escalate, and Street doesn't know when there will be a breaking point.

"We have puppies being shot, senior citizens with disabilities being severely injured, and young men with mental illness being shot and killed.

"We have puppies being shot, senior citizens with disabilities being severely injured, and young men with mental illness being shot and killed. But I am not a police officer, nor have I ever been one, and whenever I have needed them in Estes Park, Boulder, or Loveland, they have been there." Street urges dialogue to foster understanding between the community and the police.

Street believes the key to making things better with the Police Department is having community dialogues, which would help the community understand the pressures police officers face. She cited the understaffing of the Department and difficulties in recruiting quality candidates. Street also says we need to look at the training needs of the police department and consider whether the current training programs have evolved in ways that benefit the community.

Street said the recent Karen Garner case particularly frightened her, as a woman who lives in Loveland with a disability. She doesn’t want to have that happen again, not in Loveland.

She believes the recent high-profile cases demonstrate the need for Police Chief Bob Ticer to step down. She calls his honesty and his ability to deal with difficult cases into question. "It's just not this case. There are other cases I feel he has not been honest about. I understand standing up for your team, but, (as Chief), you are the one that is supposed to set the standard. That's what leaders are supposed to do, lead by example, and I don't think he has been doing that. I don't think he has been doing it for years.”

If you would like more information on Street and her campaign for Loveland City Council, you can find it on her website: www.pennforloveland.com . 

Street encourages anyone with questions about her campaign to reach out and ask her.

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Welcome to our brave new world. It is becoming more difficult to support oneself, much less a family (including three daughters, a granddaughter, and the family wolf) in the ways a writer used to before the age of the vulture fund media conglomerates. I am local to Estes Park, Colorado, where I write for several outlets in Northern Colorado, including the Estes Park Trail-Gazette. As much as I love what I do for a living, it is challenging to make just a living wage writing for a newspaper, not to mention securing some perks like basic health care. So I have been looking for ways that I can continue writing while supplementing my income. Many writers around the world are now turning to subscription-based platforms like Substack to supplement their incomes. I hope that by giving my readers a direct portal to all of my writing, including articles and serialized fiction projects, they find enough value to help support and join me in continuing this journey. Some of my pieces will be editorial, and sometimes I will include some of the fine artwork that I show in contemporary galleries I will also be sharing some of my political satire art from time to time. Writing is the most powerful tool that we as human beings have to change the world for the better. It gives voice to the most vulnerable of our neighbors, shines a light on the injustices we must fix, and plants the seeds of change and hope for the future. I sincerely hope you will join me on this journey. ~Jason Van Tatenhove

Estes Park, CO
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