Winter and Construction. – Mariana Diaz

They say there are two seasons here – winter and construction. I have personally counted close to 20 cranes in the city’s skyline before, luxury apartments built in the blink of an eye. Yet this city is bursting at its seams trying to house people. I remember contacting the leasing agent at an income restricted building i.e. affordable housing and I remember her response being “Is your move in date flexible? Our current wait list is 3 months to a year.”

I alone can’t afford to live in Denver. I am incredibly lucky to have a support system – like my long term boyfriend, Tim, his family, and my family that will allow me to work part time and attend graduate school here. I have met many people this year not much younger than me who aren’t as lucky. People whose main support system are the staff at the homeless shelter where they live.

I’ll tell anyone who will listen that the shelter I work at is disgusting. There is a funk that permeates every area, it burns your nostrils even long after you’re gone, and eventually it starts to affect your mood. It is affectionately called “Shelter Rot.” It hits us all eventually staff and youth alike. There is a leak coming in through the dining room window – a space that at night doubles as a sleeping area for the males who do not fit in the dorm. There isn’t space for their belongings – so many end up with stuff stolen or lost. I spend my days there cleaning, but there is always too much to clean, layers of grime that not even the strongest chemical can break through.  We joke about burning the place to the ground and restarting. You can imagine that I’m never surprised that the youth don’t do their chores. Many of them hate the shelter, but for those same youth the shelter is their only safe space. The staff there their only support system.

That isn’t to mention that the shelter only sleeps up to 40 youth on any given night… so there are a lot more youth who choose the street every night.

Tonight I had the privilege of attending an event where youth from the shelter asked for change through photography. Their photos showed me something I already knew, but that many people refuse to recognize – homeless people are people too.

People just like you. People who deserve to be seen, appreciated, and supported. People who deserve community, a safe place to lay their heads, and love. People who unfortunately turn to the streets, to drugs, and alcohol to cope with their trauma.

I walked out of that show in awe of their courage to share their photos, their stories, and their voice. Only to walk right past a building being built where apartments are starting at $400,000.

The transitional housing sites that are run by the same nonprofit that runs the shelter I serve at have waiting lists that are at this time full. Six months before you will probably even be considered for a place. There are currently 40 youth just at the shelter searching for housing, not to say that they’re all ready, but those that are will probably be at the shelter for a while before housing becomes an option.

And those waiting lists aren’t just for the youth who have accessed our services through the shelter, nope they’re open to any young adult who meets the requirements.

The sky rises continue to go up as people who can find the means to afford them continue to move here.

Yet places like the shelter don’t have the funds to do more than operate and those operating funds come with strict requirements from funding sources that don’t take into account the individual needs of the shelter.

It’s all about the money so why would we pay attention to those who don’t have any of it?

—-

If you’re in Denver, CO and are interested in viewing the gallery of the photographs taken by the youth of the shelter they will hang at The Molecule Effect Café, at 1201 Santa Fe Dr, for the next week May 18th – May 25th.

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