Denver is a nice city with an unpleasant homeless problem.
The commercial and tourist heart of Denver is the 16th Street mall, a mile long, pedestrian area lined with shops, outdoor dining, street performers and just about everything else you would expect. The 16th Street mall comfortably takes visitors from the State Capitol and its surrounding museums at one end to Coors field at the other. Every city should be so lucky to have a place like this.
One of my better talents is the ability to send out a strong “leave me alone” vibe. This superpower-without-an-off-switch has kept women away from me (with one notable exception) my whole life. Store clerks mostly don’t bother me and no one ever makes friendly chit-chat with me on an elevator. So strong is my aura of being an angry jerk that I was shocked when I was continually accosted along the 16th Street mall by mobs of vagrants and panhandlers.
The issue of the street people became the subject of conversation last night at the hotel bar. Apparently, my “vibe” did have some deterrent effect. Others reported a much worse experience. Lo and behold, the subject of the homeless was a front page story this morning in the Denver Post.
I decided to do some homework. There are no good counts of the homeless, so the size of the homeless population can never be accurately ascertained. Compounding the problem, different agencies and charities use different definitions of homeless. Despite this, it seems clear from aggregating and averaging several sources that the Denver homeless population has exploded since 2009. Reported estimates suggest that the 2012 homeless population is between four and five times the size of the 2008 population.
Surely this will affect tourism, drain money from local business owners, and boost street crime. The problem is real and the 16th Street mall has apparently become the epicenter of the issue.
What to do?
Before we consider solutions there is one more relevant fact. Since 2009, state and municipal funding for homeless programs has increased – big time. The Denver Post reports that $60 million has been spent in the past several years to cure the homeless problem.
San Francisco is another city famous for subsidizing “homelessness.” Having walked the streets of both San Francisco and Denver I did notice one similarity – a large portion of the “homeless” community seems young, roughly college-aged and in good physical condition. Deliciously, the Denver Post noted that the homeless problem got worse after Occupy Denver showed up. It seems many of the Occupiers never left. They decided they were comfortable in Denver.
Predictably, the voices of (ahem) “compassion” are advocating for more money. Obvious to them, the problem is growing exponentially and therefore requires more taxpayer dollars to solve. Somehow I doubt that will work.
A young mother of two, an employee of my hotel, told me of being chased by a young vagrant with a bat. Apparently her donation did not please him. For her sake, and for well-being of this beautiful city, I hope the Denver City Council soon comes to its senses.