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Cheesman Park Neighbors

August 17, 2015

Nextdoor Cheesman Park

When we moved from Highlands Ranch to 13th and Downing with our school-aged children 8 years ago, we did so with our eyes wide open, understanding the issues laid out in this discussion but wanting to be part of this wonderful and diverse community all the same. We have never regretted it, and I am sorry to hear that some have. Living on a busy street, we have seen and heard it all, and it’s not just from the homeless. We have seen well-dressed young men peeing into the gutter and beside our house, and hipster women yelling and hitting their girlfriends. We definitely try to be kind and tolerant, but when someone passes out in our front lawn, or a neighbors lawn, we call 311. When we notice someone sleeping in the bushes in our alley, we take our sheers and cut the bushes back. When we see a couple getting “jiggy” on one of the couches left beside a dumpster, we tell them to move on. We do so sternly but respectively. Over the years, we have gotten to know some of the homeless that frequent our block, some by name and some by the sheer volume and tone of their voices as they panhandle on the corner. They are part of the fabric of this neighborhood, of the inner-city, and of Denver in particular. As frustrating, frightening and sad it might be some times, we once lived where problems were mostly hidden behind closed garage doors, where all seemed well when maybe it wasn’t. We prefer to see the problems openly. We liken Colfax to a river…sometimes it’s beautiful and inspiring, sometimes it’s muddy and polluted. When describing our life in Capitol Hill, we take a line from our favorite movie, Raising Arizona, “this ain’t Ozzy and Harriett!”

I understand all too well what you are talking about but the situation is not hopeless. It may be unrealistic to expect the problems to vanish completely but there are several things that can be done by you and your neighbors to reduce many of the problems. About two years ago my block (1400 Block) also suffered from many of the same problems. People would camp out on the discarded furniture in the alley, use the areas with excess vegetation to hide all manner of “activities” and would even hang out between the homes using drugs and alcohol. Having had enough of this, my neighbor and I began by breaking down and removing all the discarded furniture in the alley, I put up a fence to prevent people from entering the space between my house and the neighbor, I cut out much of the excessive vegetation in the alley and my neighbor pounded some spikes in old tree stumps to discourage loitering. The dumpsters were painted to remove graffiti and a general effort to look out for potential problem people was made. When I find people camped out and/or drunk, I politely but firmly encourage them to move on. If they refuse (which is rare), the police are called. If back packs or bags are stashed in the bushes, they are thrown in the trash. Over time, people have learned that this area is not welcoming to those who don’t show respect for private and public property. Of course, we still have some problems from time to time but many of the homeless who do frequent the area now more social and less problematic. Bottom time is that something can be done to address the issues you raise but each of us needs to step up and take action.



  you found a way to say what I was thinking when I read this post, but in a more respectful way than I would have. I moved to the neighborhood for the soul and personality. I liked that it has a history of being rough around the edges. I too have spoken to the people down on their luck as I would any of my neighbors. I pray the hood doesn’t continue on a path to over gentrification by people afraid of city life.


These are people who suffer from illnesses and horror that you can’t imagine. Can we at least offer them the dignity of not referring to them as “crazies”? Any one of you could be in their position in the blink of an eye if your brain were to fail. It’s merely the roll of the genetic dice that you’re all able to sit in your homes, see doctors when necessary and not be a “crazy”.

 Everyone has a right to safe clean courteous and respectful neighbors and the communities throughout the country. We can clean up our messes. We can be responsible citizens. There is no excuse to destroying the quality of life of others just because you’re living on the edge in public spaces. There is a need for people living in public spaces to be careful about how they act. Years and years I slept outside in the Capitol Hill community. I never trashed out anyone’s home, yard, ripped off neighbors. We have a responsibility to take care of our community regardless whether we are housed or not. Most of us try to respect those who live in our way. Most of us are generous and compassionate. I don’t buy into we can defecate wherever we please. I don’t buy that we can sleep anywhere as the federal government suggests. In taking care of three properties in this community it is terrible that many people feel it is alright to trash a place that is a part of our community including parks, churches, businesses and people’s homes. Please, we can do better and we have to be held accountable for our behavior.

Giving housing to the homeless is three times cheaper than leaving them on the streets



Feeling frustrated, grossed out (my alley was one of the toilets at one point) and at times unsafe too. I don’t think I realized it was so bad when we bought in this area 18 months ago, but now I sometimes second guess our decision. We have a 15-month-old daughter and hope to have another child in the near future. I want a clean, safe neighborhood for them and it makes me sad to realize this probably isn’t it.

What is the answer to this disturbing commentary?

“Neighbors- Returning from Walgreens after picking up a prescription. Weather so nice we took the walk- first we walk by the Church on the corner of HIgh and 14th to see two vagrants sound asleep on the stoop. Then we walk by another vagrant talking to a tree with all of his treasures including his preferred drink of choice on the sidewalk (where he was also at 11am this morning)- then just outside of the Walgreens on Rice and Colfax there are at least 4 men each asking people as they go in and out of the store for spare change. One guy leaving the store said no and he was yelled at. Luckily we have a large German Shepard and they ignore us. While in line waiting to pay, one of them walks in, takes a tee shirt off of a hanger and tucks under his shirt and starts to walk out the door.I alerted the cashier (notice there were only two young females working) that he was trying to walk out with a shirt. He heard me and threw the shirt on the floor yelling “I don’t want that shirt anyway” and left the store.


Is there anything we can do to try to stop this worsening problem? The Police have told us there is nothing they can do when they respond to a report of 3 belligerent men sitting on a bench outside of the Warren Village Church drinking all day unless there is an open container (by then it has been consumed), nothing comes out of a report of stolen bikes out of a garage or public indecency along with health safety when they use the ally as a personal potty- and we arent talking just #1.

 Nextdoor Cheesman Park

One neighbor said he just chalks it up to living in the city- really? This is our home, this is where we spend time with our kids and our loved ones, this is where we work hard to afford to be able to live in this beautiful neighborhood and we pay our taxes. Is this our reward?


Feeling pretty despondent…when I first got home I was really angry and now after writing this I recognize that there really isn’t anything we can do, is there…?”


Actually there is something that can be done.  Outreach needs to be expanded to all neighborhoods in Metro Denver.  Aside from this a shelter system has to be developed that requires people to get services.  Options have to be provided for wet shelters and people have to be able to get straightened out.  There has to be a serious investment in the neighborhood resource officers having options for emergency safe havens and places for all special sorts of persons who are on the streets of Denver. A Mil Levy tax increase of 1% is interested in creating a small amount of housing over the next few years.  We have to have a range of housing options including aggregate housing, Shared Living Arrangements, common areas in simple housing including designated areas that are secure, tiny homes also have to be created and spaces for them.  Special populations have to have places to live such as couples, people with persistent mental health diseases, pet owners, single women, young people, and those who have disabilities who cannot be in shelters.  There must be shared resources with the counties surrounding Denver to provide round the clock options where people have been living in the past.  All of this requires a permanent source of funding.  There must be local municipal and county support for these endeavors and we have to stop saying that we are helpless in the face of utter misery of our citizens housed or not. 


The final week of January saw an annual ritual in government statistical gathering that few people know about — the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time survey of the homeless population, in which HUD recruits volunteers around the country to go out and try to count up all the homeless people living in America. This year, White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough even joined up, volunteering as part of the San Francisco PIT crew.

Counting the homeless is, of course, a critical element to making appropriate homelessness policy. But good policy also requires greater awareness of a discovery that research continuously confirms — it’s cheaper to fix homelessness by giving homeless people homes to live in than to let the homeless live on the streets and try to deal with the subsequent problems.

The most recent report along these lines was a May Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicating that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person on “the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues.”


By contrast, getting each homeless person a house and a caseworker to supervise their needs would cost about $10,000 per person.

This particular study looked at the situations in Orange, Seminole, and Osceola Counties in Florida and of course conditions vary from place to place. But as Scott Keyes points out, there are similar studies showing large financial savings in Charlotte and Southeastern Colorado from focusing on simply housing the homeless.

The general line of thinking behind these programs is one of the happier legacies of the George W Bush administration. His homelessness czar Philip Mangano was a major proponent of a “housing first” approach to homelessness. And by and large it’s worked. Between 2005 and 2012, the rate of homelessness in America declined 17 percent. Figures released this month from the National Alliance to End Homeless showed another 3.7 percent decline. That’s a remarkable amount of progress to make during a period when the overall economic situation has been generally dire.


Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness

But the statistical success of anti-homelessness efforts even in the face of a bad economy underscores the point of the Florida study.

When it comes to the chronically homeless, you don’t need to fix everything to improve their lives. You don’t even really need new public money. What you need to do is target those resources at the core of the problem — a lack of housing — and deliver the housing, rather than spending twice as much on sporadic legal and medical interventions. And the striking thing is that despite the success of housing first initiatives, there are still lots of jurisdictions that haven’t yet switched to this approach. If Central Florida and other lagging regions get on board, we could take a big bite out of the remaining homelessness problem and free up lots of resources for other public services.


A homeless person.Oli Scarff / Getty Images News

Myth #1: Homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work.About 44 percent of homeless people around the country did some paid work during the previous month, according to a comprehensive 1996 Urban Institute survey. A 2013 US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) studyfound 17 percent of homeless adults in families, who share different characteristics than homeless individuals, had paying jobs, and 55 percent had worked during the previous year.

Myth #2: Getting a job will keep someone out of homelessness. The National Low Income Housing Coalition found a full-time minimum wage worker would have to work between 69 and 174 hours a week, depending on the state, to pay for an “affordable” two-bedroom rental unit (the federal government defines affordable as 30 percent of a person’s income). A full-time minimum wage worker couldn’t afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent, a standard set by the federal government, in any state.

Myth #3: Homelessness is long-term problem. The most common duration of homelessness is one or two days, according to University of Pennsylvania researcher Dennis Culhane. Nearly one in six homeless people were classified as chronically homeless — people with disabilities who have been homeless for a year or more, or experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in three years — by HUD’s 2014 survey.

Myth #4: Homelessness is always related to mental illness. Serious mental illnesses are more prevalent among the homeless: about one in four sheltered homeless people suffered from a severe mental illness in 2010, compared to 5 percent of US adults, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). But city officials cited lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and poverty as the top three causes of homelessness in a 2014 survey from the US Conference of Mayors.

Myth #5: Most homeless people are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Roughly one-third of sheltered homeless adults had chronic substance use issues in 2010, according to theSAMHSA.

Myth #6: The homeless are older and single. One in three homeless people were 24 and younger in 2014, and 37 percent belonged to a family, HUD’s survey found. One in 45 US children experiences homelessness each year, according to theNational Center on Family Homelessness.

Myth #7: Homelessness is only a problem in big cities.Nearly 46 percent of homeless people lived in a major city in 2014, according to HUD’s survey. The rest lived in smaller cities, suburbs, or rural areas.

Myth #8: Homeless people live in the streets. About 69 percent of homeless Americans lived in shelters in 2014, according to HUD’s survey. At least 30 percent of unsheltered homeless Seattle residents live in vehicles, according to theVehicle Residency Research Program, the first scholarly attempt to calculate the number of homeless people living in vehicles.

Myth #9: Homelessness is going away. The number of homeless people declined nationwide by 2 percent between 2013 and 2014, HUD found. But the homeless population increased by 6 percent in New York City, where 12 percent of homeless Americans reside, and 1 percent in all major cities.

Myth #10: Government housing programs strain budgets.Discretionary programs that help low-income people meet basic needs, more than half of which are housing assistance, made up about 2.2 percent of the federal budget in fiscal year 2013, based on estimates from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Myth #11: Fighting homelessness is expensive. Studiesshow that simply housing people can reduce the number of homeless at a lower cost to society than leaving them without homes. The Central Florida Commission on Homelessnessfound housing costs $10,000 per person per year, while leaving them homeless costs law enforcement, jails, hospitals, and other community services $31,000 per person per year.

Further reading: Inside San Francisco’s housing crisis: “We are not just numbers. We’re persons.”

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