Homeless in Denver

  • Posted: August 7, 2019
  • Category: Blog
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An outlier in an otherwise normal well-adjusted family, I suffer from an addiction I cannot hide and cruel in its grip to newsprint. Even though my family regularly tweaks my humiliating weakness with cruel humor, I cannot break the habit. Yet even as I wallow in the degradation of my need, I am puzzled and chagrined that my family has neither sympathy nor their own weakness for ink stained fingers. Obviously my example as a father was not that for which I wished, but as Cato the Younger probably said, “Est quod est”. And as you might see from that remark, the mirror reveals the weakness in my parenting prowess.

Guising their snarky wit in the form of rhetorical questions, my family often wonders why I still read newspapers rather than listening to CPR or simply checking Facebook. Leading with my chin, I answer their witty snark, making the expected earnest and logical replies. But in truth, my newspaper habit is simply life’s inertia. I subscribe to the Denver Post and the Wall Street Journal, having recently dropped the New York Times. The Times is a great newspaper for a great city, but sometime during the Barack Obama Presidency, it appears that Lewis Carroll became editor, to be joined by Chicken Little upon the advent of Donald Trump.

Despite my addiction, in later years I have found newspapers becoming less and less interesting, less and less newsworthy so to speak. That is until I came upon a new way to read them, a view through a different lens. Now I read them afresh, finding a comedy of sorts, a dark and unintentional humor to be sure, but humor nonetheless. Perhaps the insight grew naturally out of my growing understanding that I was a Deplorable among the Adorables, that dawning realization of my difference allowing me to find the humor. The goat living among sheep finds the shepherd’s need for wool and fondness of lamb stew a puzzling bargain on the part of the sheep.

But more likely that Eureka! moment came from my unexplained and abnormal interest in one of humanity’s great villains. Joseph Stalin was an evil man, astoundingly evil. But his total lack of empathy allowed him to become an astute observer of human behavior, as it really is – not as we think or desire it to be. Those such as Stalin, without empathy or conscience, are described as psychopaths. Perhaps we should steel our nerves and look to the ravings of psychopaths rather than the patois of psychiatrists for a truer look at ourselves.

Stalin knew us well, perhaps a living metaphor to the realities of shepherds and flocks. I have a T-shirt printed with one of his observations, an apocryphal one to be sure:

“Dark humor is like food – Not everyone gets it”

The words are not just a slogan. Stalin knew their truth. Among a long litany of other atrocities, he ordered six million Ukrainian peasants starved to death in a man made famine during the 1930’s, including the members my own family not yet having immigrated to the United States. Responsible for the deaths of far more innocents than the justly reviled Adolf Hitler, his disguise as a wolf in the sheep’s clothing of socialism prevents him from getting his rightful credit for his resume of terror. Perhaps if Stalin had been a nationalist or populist rather than a Man of the Left, he might assume his rightful place in infamy.

Dark humor – Not everyone gets it. A case in point is the always clueless practitioner of stand-up comedy, the Denver Post, smugly ensconced in its urban cocoon. A recent front page frames the photo of Denver Public Health workers walking among the tent cities of our downtown homeless population. The health workers, a nurse and her bearded protector, are there to provide free Hepatitis A vaccinations to the homeless population of Denver, some 3,500 to date,

The explanatory caption on the photo captures the sense of the story – “Hepatitis A is a virus, spread through squalor, that has left homeless people frightened and struggling to protect their hygiene.” The words are those of staff reporter Andrew Kenney, recently a reporter for an independent advocacy group since folded into the comforting embrace of CPR (Colorado Public Radio). A self-described advocate of the homeless, one wonders if Mr. Kenney’s dreams of a change in his circumstances; no longer saddled with the pedestrian moniker of “advocate” but cloaked in the glamourous charisma of “activist”.

Mr. Kenney’s last big piece in the Denver Post was a flattering, one might say even star struck, interview of incoming Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, self-described as a democratic socialist” who believes in “community ownership of land, labor and resources”. Ms. CdeBaca is “excited to usher it in by any means necessary. I refer you back to the thoughts (and actions) of Uncle Joe Stalin. Could he have said it any better?

One wonders – How do you keep a straight face when these people talk? Actually, if this is what makes it into the newspaper – What else is actually said but considered unsuitable for the public to hear? Do they seriously believe what they are saying? Mr. Kenney’s reporting is dark dark humor, both for what is said and what is unsaid. But just as both my Ukrainian ancestors and Joe Stalin understood, there is tragedy, a heartbreaking reality, beneath the dark comedy.

According to the Denver Post, there are 5,000 homeless people living on the streets in Denver. Later on in the article though well camouflaged back on Page 6, we are told that Denver Public Health is focusing their efforts on people with “drug addictions”. One suspects and is thankful that there exist adults directing the efforts of Denver Health towards real problems rather than catering to sympathies of Adorable fashion.

Public health officials not connected with the Denver Post name the prime cause of Hepatitis A to be the reuse of infected syringes to do hard drugs, not “drug addictions” or “squalor”, soft euphemisms doing yeoman duty in blurring the gentle reader’s view of feces strewn city streets and heroin shooting galleries. The homeless struggle with hygiene because they go to the bathroom on the street, where they sleep and do drugs. In their laudable efforts to maintain some level of hygiene on the streets, Denver has two mobile bathrooms circulating the city, serving the homeless at a cost of $1.1 million since 2016.

What is to be done about this tragedy? In the country that we love, how can there be thousands of people living on the streets of Denver, in “squalor” and struggling with “drug addictions”? These faceless homeless are human beings, each one loved by God, just like me, just like you. To their credit, Ms. CdeBaca and Mr. Kenney see the problem and are trying to do something about it. Despite my perhaps mean spirited lampooning of their words, I give them praise for that.

But as is so often the case, the art of the possible, the discipline of budgets and results, the hard reality of an engineer’s world is missing, not at all welcome, in the councils of government. Of what use is accountability to those who cloak naked self-interest in obscuring clouds of bathos and empathy?

It has always been the case that the Joseph Stalin’s of the world are enabled and supported by fellow travelers skilled in the use of compassion such as Boris Pasternak and John Reed. Revisiting the New York Times coverage of Joseph Stalin during the 1930’s is a study in the willful blindness of those who believe in Utopia.

What is government for, if not to help such as these homeless? To be sure governments will not solve the underlying problems plaguing the homeless on the streets of Denver, but there are things government can do and should do to help. What better thing can government do than provide an environment where the homeless and more importantly those on the margin might have a home?

Perhaps we cannot save those already caught up in the whirling rapids of homelessness, but we can help those at risk on the eroding shores threatened by their circumstances. That is certainly the experience in Salt Lake City, America’s trendsetter in actually combatting urban homelessness rather than pious sermonizing drawn from the progressive pundit’s prayer book.

Why does there exist homelessness on this scale in Denver? How in fact do we help, how do we cure rather than medicate the plight of these unfortunates? The economy does not appear to be a problem. “Help Wanted” signs for low skill, entry-level jobs are everywhere. Denver’s streets are construction zones witnessing an enormous increase in housing stock over the past few years. But it seems that all this new housing stock consists of “luxury apartments”.

To those such as Mr. Kenney & Ms. CdeBaca, the “invisible hand of the market” has failed. A wave of well spoken and media savvy “democratic socialists” along with their enablers such as Mr. Kenney tell us that the free market has failed. Thousands of people are forced to live on the streets because there is a lack of “affordable housing” and as the Denver Post reports elsewhere, this dearth of affordable housing exists alongside a looming glut in “luxury apartments”.

Any good story requires a villain and this story is no exception. Developers, those creatures of the invisible hand charged with trickling down, are the villains. How can this unfair and nefarious disparity exist? Obviously the developers’ greed drives their desire to build luxury apartments instead of focusing on affordable (cheap) housing, something the people on Denver’s streets really need. Even worse and proof positive of capitalist greed is the lack of new condominiums, the affordable and traditional first step into home ownership for urban home buyers.

When will this “invisible hand”, this “trickle down” touted by the heartless, provide affordable housing for poor people? The rhetoric of “democratic socialists” is a strident call to arms! The government must step in to redress the failure of the market. These young idealists offer themselves, “community champions”, passionate and articulate with both education and experience in the ways of the swamp.

They understand the problem and how to cure it. They will marshal the power of the “People”, i.e. Government. City, state and federal governments all have their parts to play. The Federal government provides money, State government builds legal and regulatory structures channeling the money while City government actually spends the money and is then responsible to deliver the votes necessary to nourish and grow those governments. Unknown to these neophytes, they have simply rediscovered a Circle of Political Life existing long before the “democratic socialists” outgrew their pacifiers.

Unfortunately for the homeless as well as for the rest of us, most young “democratic socialist” leaders are clones of Ms. CdeBaca, graduates of elite universities, possessed of advanced degrees in soft ill-defined subjects, bypassing an actual job but having spent their all important career’s formative years soaking in the Washington swamp. Almost without exception they are “fearless leader(s), prominent voice(s) and community champion(s) on social justice issues”. Their downside is that, to a (wo)man, they are a bit short on experience in making anything actually work.

At the risk of my well known prejudices being called out, it appears that a perhaps telling common trait emerging in this wave of “fearless leaders” is, irrespective of gender, their lack of that most formative and powerful of real world experiences – marriage and children. Their short lives and narrow range of human experience have provided little appreciation for the laws of cause and effect, for unintended consequences and the depths of humanity’s fallen nature. Mr. Kenney is a journalist – enough said – overdeveloped nose but atrophied Frontal Lobe.

Speaking as a former developer – at least of energy projects rather than those doubly cursed “luxury apartments”, I can say that developers are indeed driven by greed, or at least the desire to make money. In my experience, developers are uncomplicated creatures with limited vision and simple wants. We are apolitical, allowing our pockets to be equally picked by both conservative and progressive politicians. We want to build what we are allowed to build, doing our best to avoid noble castles in the clouds almost invariably turning out to be hovels thrown together on the swamp’s quicksand. We respond to incentives, avoid hopeless battles when we can and seek compromise whenever and wherever possible.

I am aware that I am both mean and sarcastic towards those seeking to lead us into the Promised Land. But as pointed out in the Book of Exodus, even Moses suffered from the slings and arrows of cynical and shortsighted agnostics. There is always and ever the kibitzer in the back row with no responsibilities other than to indulge in pins amid the balloons. However I think the reasons for the lack of affordable housing are no big secret, well known to anyone actually interested in an answer.

The State of Colorado’s Construction Defects laws are more than friendly to litigants seeking solace in the pocketbook of the builder’s insurance provider. And we mustn’t forget the part played by the Building Codes for the City of Denver and Colorado, rivaling as they do the Federal Register in length and clarity.

It has been said, perhaps only an urban myth, that legal firms specializing in liability litigation purchase the first unit in any condominium or housing development. The purchased unit would be taken apart, searched for “violations” of the building code and documented. In time the HOA would be solicited to file a lawsuit against the developer, no cost to the HOA. Who turns down free money? The lawsuit was a slam dunk before a sympathetic and credulous jury, the HOA received a nice hunk of cash and the law firm banked a windfall.

Understandably developers and their insurers learned the rules of the game, building apartments for rent rather than condos for purchase. Juries have a different standard for landlords than for aggrieved condo owners. But as time has passed everything residential built and sold in Colorado now has a budget for the inevitable and expected litigation.

It is well known that Colorado’s Construction Defects laws are badly in need of normalization. But . . . Colorado’s Construction Defects laws are a very lucrative source of business to Colorado’s Trial Lawyers. And . . . Colorado’s Trial Lawyers are a very large contributor to Colorado’s Democratic Party, as well as Democratic politicians nationwide. It must be said that the Democratic Party has Colorado’s various governments firmly within their grasp. Presumably the trial lawyer community has made, or will soon make, some acquaintance with that “community champion” Ms. Candi CdeBaca. After her years in Washington, she is well versed in the ways of the swamp.

Another problem with affordable housing can be traced to the unavoidable consequences logically flowing from the Circle of Political Life. Money flows down; votes are the fertilizer necessary to nourish and replenish the sources of money. Reliable votes are getting increasingly expensive, what with pensions and wildly proliferating “activists” elbowing in for a piece of the action. Building streets and schools, providing for utilities, buying land for parks and green spaces costs a lot of money and those things don’t buy votes, at least not reliable “no questions asked” votes.

To keep the Circle of Political Life turning, money has to be found for the traditional jobs of government, i.e. roads, utilities, infrastructure in general. But cities have spent all their money on other things, things that buy reliable votes. Cities, just like people, use the advantages they have for their – advantage. Those whimsical wordsmiths known as economists have a definition for this exercise in entrenched power – rent seeking.

Developers’ need building permits. Cities need money. It’s that simple. But our present generation of shepherds has grown wise in their craft, realizing that money isn’t everything. Cities also need favors. There are important people within and without the city with needs that must be met; allies, supporters, temporarily out of office politicians, activist groups, unions. Their needs must be met if the city is to be at peace. One wonders where the money came from to support Ms. Candi CdeBaca as a “community activist”. Perhaps there is a niche dating site for activists and favor seekers, something along the line of “Farmers Only”?

The building permit, the zoning change, the temporary use permit needed by the builders can all be had. But there are strings attached, explicit and implicit. The strings come at a price. Of course there is the budget set aside for litigation costs, but everything built in Colorado also has a budget for “permitting costs”, “infrastructure” and “soft costs”. All these budget items have an inevitable and logical effect on the price of the housing.

Of course it goes without saying that the line item for insurance just keeps growing. Trial lawyers, like community activists, are persistent thorns in the garden for which there exists no Round-Up, the prophesy of Genesis 3:18 fulfilled. Breaking down the developer’s budget further will reveal line items for things like “public relations”, “community outreach”, “environmental assessment”, etc. It is well known within the development community that using certain individuals and firms for these jobs will greatly smooth the permitting process.

Of course we can’t neglect the effect of those Building Codes. As you might expect, the codes have been carefully crafted in the interests of clarity, clear and present danger avoidance and cost. Ha ha. Whose interests would be served if that were the case? Do you think that trial lawyers find profit in simple clear language? Surely you jest sir!!

Denver is a progressive, forward thinking city. It didn’t happen by accident. In perhaps the smoothest con game I have seen in my lifetime, Denver persuaded the State’s voters to allow extension of Denver’s borders and build an airport twenty-five years ago. Riding on that success, Denver then pushed through a light rail transportation system beloved of Adorable urban thinkers. Light rail has since done an admirable job of boosting downtown Denver at the decentralized suburbs’ expense, with the added benefit of starving regional freeway construction – again to downtown Denver’s benefit.

As a result, Denver is an Adorable city, an outpost of Adorable America in a sea of Deplorables stretching for hundreds of miles in every direction. Like everywhere else in Adorable America it can be a very nice place to live. Urban Denver has all the amenities – walkable spaces with trendy bars and restaurants, a lively arts and entertainment district, gentrified districts with a hip upscale vibe.

Redevelopment of the old airport has given Denver cloistered and protected residential areas for Denver’s burgeoning Adorable population – safely removed from gritty urban areas colonized by the homeless, with good schools, walkable shopping districts and light rail access to the downtown night scene. There are office buildings with sprawling cube farms for the cossetted Adorable workers moving all that data around and tending to the Cloud. Denver’s airport, owned and operated by the City of Denver not some clueless regional entity, is an efficient hub connecting Denver to America’s other Adorable enclaves.

Denver wouldn’t be an Adorable stronghold if it weren’t doing its part to Save the Earth. And you thought building codes were just dry technical standards immune to the fantasies of the social engineers – ha ha. The newly permitted housing stock is energy efficient, as energy efficient as possible – no expense spared. Sustainability, recycling, fair trade – they all are cleverly situated in the paragraphs and clauses as well as in the penumbras formed by emanations from the codes themselves.

Like every effort to establish a real utopia there is a downside to Adorable America. It’s very expensive and costs a lot of money to live there. It’s hard to build affordable housing when you are in a deep financial hole before you even move the first shovel of dirt. One can buy a nice house in Deplorable America for the permitting and land costs of a house half that size in Adorable America.

Even we few Deplorables living among the Adorables are ok with this – if we’re already here. Our existing houses just keep going up in value. If new car prices keep going up, guess what happens to used car prices? We just grin and go along for the ride. What else are we supposed to do – move to Texas?

Adorable America is doing its part to help the homeless. We donate a dollar at King Soopers when buying groceries. We run in a 5K race, getting a t-shirt promoting our support of the cause. We “Like” inspirational Facebook/Instagram posts declaring “Hate Doesn’t Belong Here!!” and follow Twitter-savvy activists. We vote Democrat because they “care”.

Unnoticed is the great irony in our Adorable existence, to no great surprise as neither its recognition nor its appreciation is an Adorable virtue. Perhaps no greater taboo exists among the Adorables than our need to worship at the altar of “diversity”. Our righteous hatred of the “plantation culture” of the Old South is unquestioned. And yet – does Adorable America resemble nothing so much as a plantation culture, perhaps not based on race but class & education?

Going back to Cato, est quod est. In a time and place where Virtue has given way to Eros, our culture searches for a substitute, realizing that individual satisfaction a poor standard for trust. Eschewing men of the cloth, instead we look to those called Doctor. Perhaps it is to Medicine where our future shepherds might turn for guidance as they take up the scepters of rule.

How can we not hurt for the homeless as well as all of the other casualties of the modern world? We live in a culture rich in resources. But those with the power to direct those resources, our political masters, might keep in mind, and take to heart, that most well known of Medicine’s wisdom and cautions contained in the Hippocratic Oath –

 

2 Responses to “Homeless in Denver”

  1. Joe Vickrey says:

    As always Bill your insight and story telling are amusing and thought provoking. I think the “homeless” in Denver have always been there, just not counted as a reconciled part of our society. I recall talking about parts of town where the “hobos or bums”, a historically less gentrified moniker, stayed during my youth. Whether there by affliction or addiction, it is a fallacy of our current elected officials, both conservative and liberal, to attempt to legislate a solution to this always existent problem. With the 21st century media to vested to explain why we should support legislative processes that will neither solve nor correct the plight to which they have chosen or sentenced. Perhaps we could seek a solution similar to the WPA, that provides a value to the community and resources to assist the community with other persistent problems, like sweeping the 16th street mall, or washing our buses and light rail cars, in exchange for a place to lay their head, nourishment and a secluded pursuit of their demons off the streets and in the parks, after work hours of course, like the rest of us.

  2. Judy Hoxworth says:

    So if the homeless have always been there as the previous writer suggests…have they always been on the entire west coast at the level or number they are today? Are we now making a big deal about nothing…I’m just surprised they aren’t all the fault of this president Oh but just wait, they will be…and no doubt every Deplorables fault too!

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