Signs of a failed system crack through more and more, waiting for the eyes who have not suffered it as much to notice. The reminders are constant. Every tent on the streets, every palm held out, hoping for someone to feel generous enough to drop change into it, and now as Denver finds itself in the depths of winter, every snowflake falling from the sky. It's no secret that America has an increasing number of citizens afflicted by the unforgiving effects of homelessness, and yet it continues to get swept under the rug. Many chalk it up to an issue too big and overwhelming to be solved, and while losing hope is easy to do when staring down a problem so bleak, ignoring the problem entirely only makes it worse.
According to Jennifer Brown of The Colorado Sun, Denver´s population experiencing homelessness doubled after the COVID 19 pandemic, and while the pandemic had a noticeable effect on this, it's been an issue that's been festering for years. The homeless mortality rate in the Denver metro area has spiked by 94% in the last five years with the last year´s tally coming in at 173 deaths.
The main cause for these deaths being drug overdoses. While this may not shock many, it isn't any less of a problem. For many Denver residents, East High School students in particular, these people are nothing more than part of the scenery on the sidewalk, a slight blemish on the city they go about their lives within. However, this doesn´t mean it's not a problem among some of those same students.
East High social worker Heather Gardiner explains that she is aware of a significant amount of students experiencing homelessness in the school, and yet she gets a surprisingly small amount of reports to her. In reference to students coming to her for resources she states that, ¨Unfortunately, I don't see or have the numbers that I¨ve had before.¨ With Denver's homeless population on the rise, it seems as though the stigma around it is too. ¨We just have to know,¨ she continues, ¨I think there is a stigma, and I think sometimes students have pride and they don't want to say to a teacher that they´re homeless.¨ She encourages students to not worry about the stigma or any shaming around it. She helps run the school´s Backpack program, which hands out food to students and families in need every Wednesday in the commons. These packages include some baseline necessities for families, including groceries and snacks.
Denver residents are so used to seeing homeless people on the streets that it doesn't even register with them that they are indeed real people that have backstories and very real struggles that have led them to this point in their lives. This is by no means an attempt to invalidate the struggles that the more fortunate have had to deal with because at the end of the day, suffering is suffering, no matter the extent of it, but the inconvenience of the truth doesn't make it any less real.
With this winter's temperatures dropping as low as twenty-four degrees below zero, some action has been taken to shield the people from the brutal winter conditions. Locations such as the Denver Coliseum were opened as temporary shelters from the weather, and while it's a step in the right direction, it is still ultimately a bandaid for the bigger issue. Ultimately, that's all that can be done at the moment. Until action is taken by those who have the power, bandaids will have to do. Dealing with systemic issues is exhausting and can break the spirit of the people, but losing hope is what lets the people who created the problem win.
Below are a few sources to help:
-Denver Rescue Mission: https://denverrescuemission.org/
-Colorado Coalition for the Homeless: https://www.coloradocoalition.org/
-Sacred Heart House of Denver: https://sacredhearthouse.com/