In the Denver Metro Region, gentrification and displacement are becoming critical issues. With investment in development of our urban core, along transit lines and in other areas of opportunity, skyrocketing rents, rising property taxes and cultural disruption of neighborhoods means that communities in which there has been historic underinvestment are now being pushed out of neighborhoods at the very moment they stand to reap the greatest gains of employment opportunities, services and other amenities.
As a multi-sector collaborative, committed to ensuring our region’s transit system fosters communities that offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life, Mile High Connects hosted a call to action event on April 19th. During our early morning event, over 100 people from across sectors and communities joined us and heard from community residents about their experiences around displacement, rising rents, shifting community fabric, and evictions. They listened to federal government leadership talk about their investments to disrupt poverty and increase diversity of housing choices. We also heard about strategies being implemented to increase economic opportunity.
This event served as the touchstone and call to action for the release of our Access to Opportunity Platform: A Regional Call to Action to Address Our Gentrification and Displacement Crisis. The platform outlines strategies and recommendations around housing, place/community and culture, and economic opportunity. Click here to download the platform.
With every word that you are reading right now, your perception of me is changing. Look at my photo after every other sentence or so. Perception is a big deal. Captioned visual narratives are very powerful. We judge one another mercilessly based upon nothing more than perception. The story we are told about people who earn $0-13,000 per year is designed to make the rest of us feel better about ourselves, designed to give some of the more affluent among us permission to bully and demand justification, from those of us experiencing poverty and homelessness, for our insistence upon attainable housing, income-based access to public transit, dignified wages and protection from the police, for example. Years ago, in prison, in one of those moments of clarity, I saw myself as part of the Problem. An African-American male, a convicted felon, a long history of substance abuse and un(der)employment. Many of the traits that the more affluent among us have been conditioned to fear. I am currently working to provide a platform for people who lives are being impacted by economic genocide to share their stories. Stories of multiple attempts, for a single family, at relocation in the wake of gentrification. Stories from people with disabilities for whom the pursuit of employment has become more surreal because they must choose between eating or paying for public transit essential to job search. Working with, and advocating for, people dealing directly with the (political and social) hardship of poverty, homelessness, gentrification and un(der)employment, my perception of the Problem has changed radically.
It is not enough for us to just do things differently. The time has come for us to do different things.
Marucs Harris, Advisory Council Peer Organizer, Bayaud Enterprises
Co-founder/co-facilitator People Rising Against Poverty
Last week, the city of Denver swept away problem of chronic homelessness by removing hundreds of homeless people from makeshift encampments throughout the city. The City claims that their decision was made because of the public safety issues these encampments create for the homeless residents themselves and the public at large. They are absolutely correct. What the City is not prepared to address in any meaningful way is exactly where it is they would like these people to go. The shelter directors have stated that there is not enough affordable housing or enough emergency shelter to meet the growing demand. As a consequence, these people default to living on the streets as a last resort. I have for the past month spent a few weeks living on the street, trust me when I say that nobody is living outside because they want to.
Rather than develop thoughtful and compassionate measures to address this crisis, the City answered with an arsenal of garbage trucks and police officers. Denver, we can and must do better. The City claims they are storing people’s belongings and they can access them. That is an outright fabrication. Try finding your personal belongings in a sea of garbage bins. Hundreds of people have lost all of their personal belongings (including photos of their children). The problem has temporarily disappeared from public sight but the fact remains, people have to exist somewhere. It is our responsibility as a city to find adequate places for people to be other than the streets.
If we can build a world class light rail and airport hotel for visitors, shouldn’t we be able to provide adequate and compassionate shelter for our most disenfranchised residents. We are urging city Denver residents, city officials, nonprofit leaders, foundation leaders, advocates and homeless residents themselves to come together to recognize that this crisis must be addressed right now in a more constructive and compassionate manner.
We hope we can join in a concerted effort to develop the resources, plan and collaborative spirit necessary to protect the basic safety and dignity of every Denver citizen. Everyone in our city deserves to be somewhere safe to sleep tonight.
PJ D’Amico, Executive Director
The Buck Foundation
In Denver, it is illegal for homeless residents to sleep or sit on downtown sidewalks, or to use any form of shelter from the cold or sun other than their clothing. In Denver, because of new laws like the Urban Camping Ban, city officials are treating homelessness as a criminal condition and are illegalizing the activities of homeless people in public spaces.
In response to this crisis a consortium of partners including the Buck Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Bayaud Industries and local service providers have joined forces to move people to take actions that change social norms and policy. The Buck Foundation is specifically focused on organizing homeless residents themselves to mobilize around key initiatives to protect their rights and access to services.Among these are 1) access to public toilets 2) state and city laws to protect basic human rights, 3) establishment of an affordable housing fund and 4) maintaining affordable public transit fares.
In April we convened 300 homeless residents and providers to address each of these key areas and to develop solutions. Because our nonprofit partners and most foundations are slow to exert pressure and influence on the philanthropic, private and public sectors, the Buck Foundation has been working to build a coalition of the willing into key working groups to address each of these issue areas. In this formative year, we have developed a culture of shared leadership, strategy and training in community organizing. Given the vulnerability of the homeless community, this initiative is going to take time and patience with a series of small victories to grow momentum.
In addition, the Buck Foundation sponsored the first national convening of the National Coalition for the Homeless in concert with a nationwide campaign to introduce an inaugural Right To Rest Act, piloted this spring in the Colorado State Legislature.