Storm dampens homeless census

Needy still turnout for Adams County magnet events

Posted 2/5/19

You might see Douglas John holding a cardboard sign along the side of the road — or behind the counter at the McDonalds at 80th and Wadsworth. What he makes, whether by panhandling or working, …

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Storm dampens homeless census

Needy still turnout for Adams County magnet events

Posted

You might see Douglas John holding a cardboard sign along the side of the road — or behind the counter at the McDonalds at 80th and Wadsworth.

What he makes, whether by panhandling or working, he’s trying to save to make a down payment or deposit on rent. That would get him off the streets.

“I’m doing what I can to get on my feet again,” John said.

John, 34, was one of 12 homeless people to make their way to the Westminster Swim and Fitness Center, at 76th and Irving, Jan. 28 for the Everyone Counts survey.

It’s the second year Westminster hosted the event at the rec center. Homeless people are encouraged to come to the center for a hot meal, a hair cut, a medical check-up as well as some fresh gear for the event. They are also invited to take part in a survey and homeless count that helps drive policy in Westminster, Adams and Jefferson counties and the entire state.

“They don’t have to participate,” said Kate Skarbek, special projects analyst for Westminster’s Parks, Recreation and Library department.

Skarbek said 12 homeless people attended the event, down from the 30 that came last year for the first year of the magnet event.

The late January snowstorm that dumped several inches on the metro area and kept overnight temperatures around ten degrees was likely responsible for the lower turnout, she said. Any homeless people that might leave their overnighting spot in warm weather to come to the event might choose to hunker down in the cold instead.

That does not mean it was not a success, she said.

“This year’s magnet event still yielded more survey responses than in 2016 or 2017 when we did not hold magnet events,” Skarbek said in an email. “Several people were connected to services this year, too”

Homeless advocates across the Front Range fan out for two days each year to count the homeless as part of the annual Everyone Counts Point-in-time survey for the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.

Cities across the country are required to take the survey each year on the last two days of January to qualify for federal funding from the department of Housing and Urban Development.

Adams County hosted five events designed to draw in homeless individuals for the annual survey, offering free food, gear, showers and visits with medical professionals and barbers.

Volunteers also fan out across the metro area to perform the surveys. Initiative volunteers spread out across the Denver area to find homeless individuals, count them and ask them to take part in the survey.

Local volunteers collected a roomful of goods — everything from warm socks to winter coats and sleeping bags to dog food. Homeless guests were invited use the facilities’ showers, get a check up with nurses, a haircut and a hot, catered meal.

Somewhere to go

John said that’s what brought him in.

“I saw the sign and didn’t have anywhere else to go, so I just came here,” he said.

He arrived at the fitness center at 8 a.m — long before the event started — and found himself pressed into service, helping get set up for the Westminster event.

This has been a difficult winter, John said. He moved to the area a little more than two years ago from Nebraska and was able to buy a good amount of camping gear, which he kept off of a bike trail near 60th and Federal.

“I had an eight man tent, a little generator, sleeping bags and air mattress,” he said. “Yeah, I had a setup. All the other bums were jealous. They thought I was living in a mansion.”

He claims he bought some things at a garage sale, kept them for a while and eventually sold them at a pawn shop. It turned out they’d been stolen originally, and he was arrested and served time in Arapahoe County jail.

When got out and returned to his old spot, all of of his gear was gone.

He’s been couch-surfing since then and sleeping outside when the weather permits, going between his McDonald’s job and panhandling to get cash.

But he avoids homeless shelters, he said.

“They ain’t close to where I work and it’s so hard to get around,” he said. “I have to be at work early and the buses just don’t run at that time. I wouldn’t mind going to a shelter, but I’ve heard you have to watch your stuff and you have to worry about bedbugs. I’d rather stay out where I can, where I can start a fire if I need to.”

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