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Globeville Bound by Nancy Peters

September 22, 2015
Carmen, homeless woman, laying out the case for the homeless center in the Globeville neighborhood . (photo credit: Nancy Peters)

Carmen, homeless woman, laying out the case for the homeless center in the Globeville neighborhood . (photo credit: Nancy Peters)

(Note: This piece appeared in the December, 2014 issue of Get Loudone of Denver’s newspapers by and about homeless people. It details an October 13, 2014 meeting in Globeville [one of Denver’s poorer neighborhoods in the north of the city], where a group of local citizens in their majority opposed the opening of a homeless shelter – which, in fact, did open in January, 2015. It is written by Nancy Peters, like myself, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, with a long history of activism here in Colorado in the Peace and Social Justice Movements. She’s a classic example of what happens to many Peace Corps people, who come home to the United States and continue the kind of selfless work they did abroad. I know many others like her.

Besides the fact that it is well written, what struck me about this article – I asked Nancy if I might post it here and she agreed – is that to a striking degree, it parallels what transpired at the Scheitler Recreation Center this past week when a similar proposal to open an “overflow homeless center” was proposed to people living in the neighborhood of Inspiration Point in the northwest corner of Denver, the only difference being that there were no homeless people there to defend themselves, same arguments, same fears, same callousness. rjp)

Globeville Bound
by Nancy Peters

Despite vocal opposition from residents, a civic association leader, and a city council representative–and with no input from the women who will use it–the Denver Women’s Emergency Shelter will relocate to the north Denver neighborhood of Globeville by January 2015. The shelter, which is currently located at 14th Avenue and Elati Street in Denver and hosts about 60 women a night, will be able to accommodate 75-100 women at the new location–the Holy Rosary Church at 4688 Pearl Street. About $200,000 in renovations, paid for through a grant from the Denver Foundation, will be made to make this facility suitable for the purpose.

The shelter, to be called Holy Rosary Center for Women, will be run by Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver, through a contract with the city. Catholic Charities already manages a number of Denver area facilities serving people experiencing homelessness, including the Samaritan House.

Women will make the 2 1/2-mile trip to and from the shelter on buses departing from the Samaritan House each evening and returning there in the morning. Because of the distance, as well as neighbors’ concerns, they won’t be able to travel on their own to the shelter as they do now at Elati. They will receive an evening meal and a sack breakfast. Their “beds” would continue to be mats on the floor, rather than the cots the women say they had been hoping for.

At a meeting at the church on Oct 13th, many residents expressed strong opposition to the shelter being located in their neighborhood. The meeting was attended by about 60 neighbors, District 9 City Council representative Judy Montero, four regular Elati shelter guests, and several homeless advocates. It was facilitated by staff of Denver’s Road Home, Catholic Charities, and the Denver Foundation.

Community members claimed there were already too many shelters in that area, expressed their fears that the shelter would increase crime and violence, and asked why their community, which struggles financially, was chosen rather than a wealthier community such as Cherry Creek or Highlands Ranch.

“We don’t want you here,” said Globeville Civic Association president Dave Oletski. “This is the poorest neighborhood in Denver. We are the least able to stand up to you.” Other comments included: “You made a terrible mistake picking this neighborhood,” “There will be hell to pay if you do it,” and “I’m ashamed that I was raised a Catholic.”

Several residents insisted that Globeville was a compassionate community that wished no harm to homeless people, but “We are surrounded by treatment facilities”…”We have a problem of drug deals and home invasions going on”…”It’s fair for us to ask about crime.”

Residents asked what would prevent the women guests from leaving the shelter in the night and roaming around the neighborhood, or from not getting on the bus in the morning. They suggested that having the shelter there put their children at risk. Denver Catholic Charities CEO Larry Smith said that a “one-strike” policy would be enforced in which any woman who does not get on the bus in the morning will not be allowed back.

Residents also asked about drug and alcohol use. Smith explained that the facility is a “wet” shelter, which means guests will not be breathalized and can stay there as long as they are not significantly intoxicated. He said all women would be vetted before getting on the bus to ensure they were appropriate for the shelter and able to manage their own behavior.

The women from the Elati shelter who attended the meeting spoke out in an effort to correct what they saw as Globeville residents’ misperceptions about homeless women.

“I understand your fears,” said Loretta. “I grew up in a poor neighborhood myself and I know the problems you experience, including high crime rates. But we are just poor women with nowhere to go, and we need this shelter. Many of us are old and sick.”

“We would never hurt you. We are afraid of being hurt ourselves,” added Karen. “We are economic refugees,” said Mary. “We’re lost in a world that doesn’t want us.” Carmen, who had her hand up many times, was not called on to speak. About two hours into the meeting, the women left when they could no longer endure the animosity they felt directed against them.

Globeville residents and Montero expressed anger and frustration that the city and Catholic Charities had not talked to them about the plan until it was a “done deal.”
Smith said they were unable to go to the community until they got the approval of the archbishop, which they just obtained.

Smith, who ran the meeting, said that there’s a huge need for the shelter, since the current one is about to close. Referring to the mission of the Catholic Church to “reach out and help the poor,” Smith said that “the issue is not whether, but how and where we help (the women).” Smith and Denver’s Road Home staffer Chris Conner explained that the city has been searching for over a year for a new location for the shelter, with several potential locations falling through due to building shortcomings, competition from other users, distance from downtown, and other factors.

Globeville, along with its sister communities Swansea and Elyria, has long wrestled with problems of poverty, industrial pollution, and two major Interstate highways (I-70 and I-25) running through the neighborhood and preventing residents from forming a cohesive community. A $2 billion Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) proposal to enlarge a stretch of the I-70 east of the I-25 includes a plan to build the part passing through this area underground, and to put a landscaped cover on top. While there is disagreement over how this project would affect the north Denver area, many believe it could unify and strengthen these communities.

Homelessness is a national problem. July, 2009/ Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, directly across the street from where I (rjp) was born.

They are also hopeful that the 77-acre Asarco tract of land completing pollution remediation will spawn industrial development and jobs. “We finally have a chance to uplift this neighborhood,” said Oletski. “We have so much work to do. We don’t need this.”

At several residents’ insistence, a non-binding vote of those present was taken, in which 25 people opposed the shelter in their neighborhood, and about 15 supported it. Smith and the other leaders committed to holding additional meetings with Globeville residents in the coming weeks.

Asked how the shelter got around zoning rules, Smith explained that under a “rights of use” permit, a building can be used as a shelter for up to 120 days per year. Smith said he is seeking buildings in two other Catholic parishes, in order to rotate the shelter among the three for year-round coverage without requiring a zoning variance.

“We are still aiming for a permanent year-round shelter,” Smith said, “but for that everyone must agree, which is very difficult.”

The true heroes of the night

After the four women and I left the Globeville meeting, we stood outside and talked. One woman we spoke with was Cathy Vannerson, Director of Archdiocesan Housing. Vannerson told the women it must have taken a lot to hear people say the things they said against having homeless women in their neighborhood, and to not respond in anger. She said she considered them “true heroes” and “the bravest people I’ve met.”

I totally agree with Vannerson. In the car on the way up, knowing they would be facing some hostility, the women agreed to remain calm and to act respectfully toward everyone, no matter what. They understood that, right or wrong, all the women who use homeless shelters would be judged according to how they behaved.

These women knew what they were going to walk into, and yet they were determined to go anyway. They insist that they too have been left out of the communication loop about plans that will greatly impact their lives and well-being. They say that’s not right–that their concerns and ideas should be heard and taken seriously by the planners.

Since that meeting I’ve talked a lot with these four brave women. They shared how hard it was to hear themselves portrayed in such a negative light. And yet, they sympathize with the people of Globeville, whose very real problems have long been neglected by city officials and who feel–like the women themselves–ignored and disrespected. They want to keep interacting with the Globeville residents. They believe that if people get to know them as individuals, their fears will evaporate and their stereotypes will be replaced by real understanding.

And they wonder what it would take to open a permanent women’s shelter–a place that would help stabilize women’s lives, reduce their struggles, and support their efforts to obtain permanent housing.

I wonder too. Can it really be that NIMBY-ism (not in my back yard)–is allowed to thwart every effort to provide shelters, housing and support centers for people experiencing homelessness? Can it be that the self-centered desires and preferences of those who would JUST RATHER NOT SEE homeless people around them ALWAYS get to trump the survival needs of those who have nothing? What will it take to replace this paradigm with one driven by economic justice?
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In our own words:

Karen: They (Globeville residents) are looking at the small not the big picture. Those at the meeting didn’t represent the whole community, just those who were upset and chose to attend to complain. They weren’t allowing other voices to be heard. The women started to sympathize but the men wouldn’t let them. It was a bunch of sexist males blaming women for things. They were blaming homeless women for drug and alcohol problems and home invasions. Those problems could be coming from their own neighbors. They were more concerned about their possessions than about us women. What if the tables were turned and they were homeless? How would they feel? They were judging us and making assumptions that just aren’t true. Safety works both ways.

Loretta: They were scared because it was something new. The city and Catholic Charities could have gone to the community first and listened to them. One woman who lived there 35 years said she didn’t mind (about the shelter coming in). They were concerned about their kids. They don’t want them to know about the homeless. It could be their own people doing the home invasions. I want to go back and talk to them. I want them to see that many of us are senior citizens on fixed incomes.

Carmen: They didn’t give me the opportunity to speak even though I had my hand up a lot. We’re nothing like the way they were describing us. We’re strangers. We don’t know them. They made us feel uncomfortable. We were scared for the first time in our lives. We don’t want to go in there if they feel like that. Will our safety be guaranteed on the bus and at the shelter?

Mary: We have handicapped, paralyzed, people with canes, oxygen, walkers. We’re not people who steal, rob, or break into homes. I wanted to say to them, “I have more to be afraid of than you do. Why are you mad at us? We didn’t do anything to you. We’re old and just need a little help.”
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What do you think should be done to help women who are experiencing homelessness in Denver? Write and let us know! (See the back page for ways to get in touch with us.)
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandra Shwayder Sanchez permalink
    September 22, 2015 5:22 am

    Anyone with a trace of common sense & just a bit of goodness should B afraid FOR not of these poor women . . . & WANT the church 2 offer them refuge.

  2. Phil Jones permalink
    September 22, 2015 10:51 am

    It is a well written piece, but I can’t help feeling sorry for the residents of the neighborhood as well as the women. If the city is dumping all kinds of institutions in their neighborhood, I think they are entitled to ask “why us?” However, I also wonder if the debate might be helped by stats about the effect of homeless women on neighborhoods. Personally, I have a hard time thinking that women create any serious problem to the areas around homeless centers. On the other hand, I think homeless men may pose problems. We males just tend to much more violent creatures, whether homeless or super rich..

    • September 22, 2015 11:16 am

      Phil…yes, the way the city goes about implementing these projects is the typical bureaucratic way, which only exacerbates the tensions – they are secretive, clumsy, and essentially half assed, with the targeted community knowing as little possible for as long as possible. The city (Denver) has in fact a long tradition of such methods (as to other cities I suppose). There is another point, quite valid, raised by those who oppose the shelter in the neighborhood where we live – and that is, why are shelters not being built in “Cherry Creek”, near the University of Denver, the more prosperous Denver neighborhoods. Again VALID concern that underlines the discriminatory nature of the program… That said, one needs to hear the shrill emotional comments the NIMBY excuses (NIMBY – not in my back yard) in person to realize how shallow are the main arguments against and how exaggerated are “the concerns.” While it is true there are a number of factors that come into play, property values are right up there at the top of the list. And the studies I have seen suggest that property values are not effected at all; in most cases, people in a neighborhood often don’t even know the shelter is there.

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