Since moving into the Denver metro area over a year and a half ago, I have seen the severity of the homelessness issue first-hand in Boulder and Denver alike. There is a two-block area around North Denver, off of Broadway and Park, which is full of homeless people with piles of clothing lying on the grass and sidewalk. Old, young, women, black, white, veterans— it’s incredibly disheartening to see blocks of homeless people on the same street as a construction site for the latest Bougie neighborhood (currently River North). In Boulder, Pearl Street is full of colorful performers trying any talent to earn a few dollars to get a meal while surrounded by boutique shops with socks that cost $30 a pair. When it comes to the homelessness problem, I personally find there are solutions that aim to solve instead of cover up or ignore. One of the solutions might seem grandiose— changing the entire system of Capitalism— or instead, slightly shifting the axis of Capitalism to involve a different mindset. My father preached this while I was growing up, and the key word is moderation.
In our society there is a large expectation to gain as many things as possible. Instead, we need to learn to be more content with a little less (which I believe is happening more with the current tiny home movement and the need to own less things as living in a studio is the only financial possibility as a student in Boulder…). By being satisfied with the basics, becoming a less wasteful consumer, we can shift that satisfaction of materials to a satisfaction of, say, helping others achieve the same basic satisfaction many of us take for granted. More resale stores are popping up, but even Boulder’s signature resale store, Buffalo Exchange, is selling Doc Martens at more than half-price. We can all do better.
On a recent visit to the new Denver Market in the River North area, I was impressed with the large assortment of goods including cheese and meat, seafood, artisan chocolates, ice cream, Italian cuisine, a coffee bar, a libations bar— and the outlandish prices. A 10-ounce bag of coffee cost $22 (a 30.5 ounce container of Folgers coffee costs $16). I can’t help thinking of a quote by Sivarakska: “Capitalism aims for profit, not for the welfare of the general public…”. This Market was not constructed to help the young professionals living in mini high-rises in the area and struggling with already-high living costs. It was constructed to turn profit into higher profit so the artisanal vendors inside can afford to buy their artisanal needs and pay the Denver Market’s artisanal rent. These artisanal market systems, high living (and market) costs paired with low income are only a small portion of the issues facing the homeless population.
In the two blocks off Park Ave, I was personally astounded by the piles of clothing lying on the grass and sidewalks—and the sweep scheduled mid-December, with notice signs posted all over the city warning the homeless to move their belongings from the parks and sidewalks. After the warnings, the police would go in. In Boulder, homeless persons can be cited for “camping.” While it is part of the city and the city’s businesses to keep the land clear, there is a better resolution than creating a radius where the homeless population is refused refuge. It does not help that housing prices are ever-increasing—including temporary housing; where the cheapest hostel in Denver used to be a motel for a few bucks a night, a single roomis now $53 or an outlandish $70 in Boulder (the cheapest Air BnB’s were $33 and $47, respectively)—so there are fewer and fewer places for the homeless to go inside city limits. Since the cities are literally pushing low-income residents out, the homeless are seeking refuge in outskirt neighborhoods. The homeless population going to the neighborhoods is causing homeowners in Denver to put their properties up for sale: they would rather run away from the issue then face it. It makes it seem like these cities that continuously preach ecological and economic optimism would rather abandon than resolve an issue.
Although the city and residents of the Front Range don’t appear to be doing much, there are groups out here trying to find real solutions. A homeless advocate group, described as “quietly” looking for solutions for homelessness, is based in Denver. But they are “quiet.” We need all voices, and some that are louder, too. If people don’t know there are organizations out there, or are not encouraged to join the advocates, then how can they begin to help? Boulder has quite a few shelters and societies listed in the Homeless Shelter Directory who are willing to help. But this is not enough. We must also fight the camping ordinances and pet laws allowing the government to target the homeless of our communities by fining them at costs they already can’t pay.
So maybe we could all actually get a little Boulder in our every-day living by sincerely adopting some Buddhist principles (not just by banning plastic bags). Let’s consider how the goals of Buddhist development are equality, love, freedom, and liberation. It is not just about making our cities clean, it’s about living with a high quality of life where every member of a community is acknowledged as a member of the community and works to build each other up.
This, to me, boils down to a phrase by Jarem Sawatsky, which identifies how a successful society must focus on how we structure our life together: “a call for members to be engaged outside of their community in the task of building and rebuilding a politics of love in the world.” A shift from “I” to “we” is a great beginning for how members of a community can get engaged with the pride of their properties and then seek to engage outside of their homes and with the larger community. Changing our mindset is how we change the homeless issue. There is a lot of hippie-like preaching going on in Colorado; maybe we could begin to actually embody these notions, this politics of love in the world, by showing we do love our neighbor, our streets, and most importantly, the people who occupy these streets.
-By Kristiane Weeks, Kosmic Beat