Homelessness around America


By Max R. Weller


Samaritan House in Denver, CO

See Vincent Carroll’s column in the Denver Post, in which he interviews Larry Smith of Catholic Charities in that city: What Catholic Charities is doing for Colorado’s homeless. Excerpt below:

Q: What are your impressions of the state of homelessness in Denver? Has it gotten better or worse in recent years?

A: Our view is that it is getting worse, not better. (BTW, I concur — MRW). What we’re seeing down at Samaritan House is a higher volume of people. Now that may mean that it’s concentrated whereas before it was more spread out. It’s hard to say for sure. We don’t do the point-in-time study [that counts the homeless]. What I can tell you is that we never have an empty bed, so that no matter how many people exit homelessness there is always someone to fill that bed. Our job is to help reestablish their own personal dignity and self-worth. 

I will say that we are seeing a larger number of elderly people, especially women, since we’ve opened the Holy Rosary Shelter at Samaritan House. We converted our overflow men’s shelter through an agreement with the Salvation Army, and opened up that overflow shelter to women to become the first permanent women’s shelter in Denver. We were under the impression that there was a small group of women who needed shelter. And what we found was the opposite.

You’re seeing the composition of homelessness change somewhat, and you’re seeing greater needs among the homeless. So that is the challenge at Catholic Charities: How do we keep our eyes open to adjust the services that we provide to meet the needs of people who come to us today as opposed to 30 years ago?

Samaritan House launched in 1986 and it was a beautiful model. Just to give you perspective. About 350 people sleep there every night. They have a men’s dorm and a women’s dorm: 126 beds for the men’s extended stay program and 48 beds for the women’s extended stay program. And then we have a family floor. And what we traditionally see is people move through this shelter or come to us get into the extended stay program, which is essentially a four-month program to get people stable. They have to be sober when they come into the program. And then we help them find housing or income; that may be government assistance or it may be a job, or a combination of the two. and then stable housing.

It takes someone being in the program at least 30 days before you determine if they’re really serious or if they’ll go back to their old ways. Of those in the program more than 30 days we used to see a high percentage — high 80s or low 90s — who would leave with stable housing and stable income. Today we’re seeing the same high percentage leaving the program with stable income but we’re down in the 60 percentile for people leaving with stable housing because the housing market has changed so dramatically in Denver.

What Larry Smith doesn’t mention is that scores, perhaps hundreds, of homeless men and women in Denver move on to Boulder because of the latter city’s reputation for handing out Free Stuff to anybody who shows up.

The Wall Street Journal has an article (requires a subscription to view online in its entirety, but I have the hard copy in front of me), Los Angeles Neighborhoods Tackle Homelessness on Their Own, that contains an insight from a homeless man I want to share:

[Bobby Foster, a 58-year-old homeless man] is an Army veteran who has been living in Temescal Canyon Park for nearly seven years. He said he wasn’t interested in Los Angeles’ $100 million homeless initiative, explaining that he enjoyed living outdoors.

“They want to put us in a homeless shelter with basically 24 people,” Mr. Foster said. “I don’t want to live in that environment. I have been there before. It is like a damn prison cell.”

To me. it’s even worse than what I experienced in Missouri DOC for the simple reason that there are no enforceable rules requiring the homeless to behave in a reasonable way, and the shelter/services providers in Boulder, CO pack people in like sardines — a maximum of 160 at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and generally 100+ at Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow.

Thank goodness I’ve learned to survive outdoors, and also have friends who welcome me into their home during wintertime . . .

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