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Voices of the Homeless

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Photo by Sara Bruskin

A broad range of opinions

By Sara Bruskin

In Boulder, you’ll find a broad range of opinions about the homeless population, with concerns ranging from discrimination and humanitarian issues to safety and sanitation. The city devotes an entire webpage to a “Homelessness Strategy,” and numerous nonprofits in the area raise money and awareness for homeless issues. Yet for all of our good intentions and charitable donations, sometimes we forget to just listen.

Here’s how several homeless people responded to the question, “Is there anything you wish other people knew about you, or homelessness in general?”

Anonymous: “I’m not here because I fell on bad luck or anything. I’m a vet, and I just realized there wasn’t a place for me anymore. I did eight tours in Iraq and when I came home, I realized that nobody was there for me, and this capitalism our country supposedly runs on doesn’t help people who have served. I didn’t want to be a part of that system anymore, so I removed myself.”

Linda: “We’re out here because we have to be. I’m in a wheelchair and on oxygen. How many options do I have?”

Bird: “This is the first time I’ve been homeless in 10 years. Got my first [news]paper job in the 1980s. Lasted six years. Worked for the Daily Camera for a bit. Was a pressman laid off from two newspapers in five years. Bam—on the streets. But I didn’t quit on life. Just got a good sales job, and I’m in a program with the shelter.”

Craig: “Everybody knows about the hunger and the cold and stuff like that. The city helps with that sometimes, and people help with that on and off. People don’t think about the mental exposure, though. The not having your own personal sanctuary. I used to take that for granted, having just a room, even, that you can shut the door to and know it’s your space…. I don’t have any space to myself anymore, and it wears on you. If you gotta cry, you do it out where everyone can see. Some people are out here because they like to travel, but it’s breaking me, feeling this rootless.”

Anonymous: “A lot of laws don’t target the homeless in writing, but in practice they sometimes do. The outdoor smoking ban in downtown is regularly enforced when homeless people smoke, but college kids smoking outside bars rarely get tickets because the cops know they’re spending money and have the resources to fight tickets.”

Joseph: “I’ve been traveling for 13 years. I’ve been to every state except Alaska, and I never received a ticket for being homeless until I got to Boulder. I’ve been here two months and got two tickets. How do they expect me to pay a $100 ticket when I’ll only make $12, maybe $13, today, and I need to eat? And they ticket you especially when they find you sleeping, so a lot more people are taking methamphetamines to stay awake.”

Anonymous: “People in this city have been great, real nice. A guy living on the hill let me sleep in his garage for a while. Real nice. He even sent me back to Pennsylvania to see my family once. Paid for the train and everything. You’ve got good people here.”

Ryan: “They killed my dog. A lot of people think that homeless people shouldn’t have dogs, but they’re our companions and we treat ’em well. They took her away from me. She was the love of my life.”

Wayne: “Up until a couple years ago, I was just like you. Before they retired me early. We’re all just one paycheck away from this.”

Connie: “On the third [day of the month] I receive a little SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance], but it is the kindness of the few and far between that keeps me alive.”

Ariana: “Now that BOHO [Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow] and Bridge House are closing, I’m really nervous for all the women out here. Whenever you see a woman out here, out on the streets, you notice she’s always with a guy. You know why that is? She might not even like him, but it’s better to have sex with one man than be raped by who knows how many.”

Anonymous: “I get it. I get that people can’t have something to give every street person you see. You don’t have to. We don’t expect you to. It’s a shame when people are afraid to talk to us, though, because a lot of the time, someone on the street might have the exact words you need to hear that day. You can’t imagine how wise a lot of these people out here are. In our society, we take some of our smartest people and we institutionalize them instead of learning from them.”

Harold: “Smiling means a lot. Just not acting like we’re invisible.”