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Year of the Plague – 9 – Homelessness in Colorado and the Coronavirus

April 2, 2020

photo credit: Sarah Gerard

1. As NYC goes…

I am not one who reads the NY Times regularly.

Don’t think much of its international reporting which in the end dovetails with the Obama and Trump Administrations’ foreign policy war plans, especially where it concerns the Middle East. But during this Coronavirus crisis I have re-subscribed to the on-line edition. Yesterday The Times ran a good, predictable but deeply disturbing story on the city’s homeless, the headline of which was “New York City Has Done Almost Nothing to Protect 70,000 People in its Homeless Shelters from Coronavirus Spread” by Tana Genava.

The story featured Johanna Garcia, a 27 year old “former” (meaning laid off, I wonder?) pre-school teacher with 4-year old daughter, Abigail and a 10 month old son, Logan. At 10 months Logan as asthma, a condition liked to fibromyalga. The three of them live in a homeless shelter where social distancing is next to impossible.

Quoting from the article:

There are no cooking facilities except for a single microwave, shared by almost 70 adults and 55 children. Each family has only one room, meaning that if a family member gets sick, quarantine — what medical experts recommend to prevent spread of the highly contagious disease — is not an option. The facility’s case managers, like countless people across the country, are working from home — leaving Garcia and others in the shelter behind.

Journalist Tana Ganeva goes to note that as of yesterday (April 1, 2020) that already 99 people living in NYC homeless shelters tested positive for COVID-19. Of the approximately 75,000 homeless people in the city, as many as 63,000 of them live in shelters, “a result,” Ganeva cites, “of years of poor policy decisions, including by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose handling of the pandemic has inspired nationwide adulation.”

Cuomo might be handling the current pandemic as well as any U.S. governor and certainly better than the President who this Easter time is, as the line from the Bob Dylan song goes “lost in the rain in Juarez.” But keep in mind that like Trump he hesitated to order a full lock down until the pandemic had already spread, and just as worrysome, at the same time he’s fighting the Coronavirus he’s lobbying for budget cuts that would trim Medicaid financing. Nor is this new, as Ganeva points out:

During his (Cuomo’s) three terms as governor, which have overlapped with the tenures of mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, homelessness in New York City skyrocketed. The mayors and governor failed to coordinate and fund policies to stem the rise and even actively worsened it. In 2011, Cuomo, who served as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton, pulled state funding for Advantage, a rent subsidy program, prompting Bloomberg to abruptly end it. The move sent at least 8,500 families back into shelter.

So Cuomo’s valiant effort to counter Trump’s chaotic response to the pandemic has its limits; the homeless are left out of the fight to fend for themselves.

 … So Goes Denver.

Not much different – if at all – here in Colorado.

Yesterday I received an email from “Denver Out Loud”- the city’s both thoughtful and militant grassroots organization of homeless folk who defend homeless folk, a political force par excellence. The email announced a suit filed by the group and other organizations concerned about the plight of Colorado’s homeless. It included a copy of the submitted brief. I posted it on this blog earlier  – and will re-post parts of it again today.

The overcrowdedness Ms. Garcia and 63,000 others have to contend with in NYC shelters parallels the situation in Colorado shelters, Nor is this anything new.

All of Colorado, not only Denver, has treated its homeless shabbily for a very long time. Every major city in the state has “a homelessness problem’ due in large measure to the state’s neglect. Too many homeless, not enough shelters. Not enough beds under normal circumstances. Virtually no facilities – public bathrooms, showers, that might mitigate some of the worst extremes of having to spend life out on the street.

All of Colorado, not only Denver, has treated its homeless shabbily for a very long time. Every major city in the state has “a homelessness problem’ due in large measure to the state’s neglect. Too many homeless, not enough shelters. Not enough beds under normal circumstances. Virtually no facilities – public bathrooms, showers, that might mitigate some of the worst extremes of having to spend life out on the street.

Despite decades of promises to address the problem – when he was Mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper made the empty promise to eliminate homelessness in Denver in a decade and then did what he was/is famous for doing: nothing. Empty words, no content. Current Mayor Michael Hancock is no better and in some ways, given the ban on camping he put in place under pressure from local merchants, he’s a shade worse. From Hickenlooper’s Road Home policy, to urban camping and tent cities – homelessness  in Denver has only accelerated and is worse than ever.

And now this,…Coronavirus, the toxic icing on an already rotten cake – Denver’s homelessness policies, or lack there of.

Given the housing shortage in the city, exorbitant rents, a state wide law prohibiting rent control and virtually no public housing planning to any measurable extent, and now the spike in unemployment as a result of the Coronavirus, the homelessness crisis – for that is what it is – is likely to get that much more severe in the big cities, in the Colorado mountains and out on the plains as well.

Denver is an exceedingly rich city and Colorado nothing short of a filthily rich state, This neglect – and not only neglect but utter contempt – for the homeless is inexcusable.  Both Colorado and Denver have the money, but not the political will to address the problem that won’t go away. Denver’s most effective organization fighting for homeless rights, Denver Out Loud! – has been fighting for homeless rights and the improvement of homeless conditions for almost a decade now.

If not for the efforts and the pressure Denver Out Loud! continues to place on the city’s (till now) brain-dead-to-this-issue city council and mayor, the situation would even be worse. In the recent election for Denver City Council, a more liberal, Democrat – people oriented council came to the fore, including an avowed and talented Socialist, Candi CdeBaca. Let’s see if anything changes.

Then every once in a while a federal or state investigation underlines just how serious the crisis has become.

For a more detailed look at homelessness neglect in Colorado, read yesterday’s blog entry. 

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill Conklin permalink
    April 2, 2020 12:26 pm

    Finally the chickens are coming home to roost on Neo-Feudalism aka Neo-Liberalism. The Chicago Boys have met their match: The march of history. For over a hundred years, the Capitalist, Imperialist-Warmongers from Northern Europe have been enriching their pockets with the wealth of nature and the labor of the poor. Marx was right, but FDR’s reforms gave Capitalism an extended life. The S**t has hit the fan, things have to change.

  2. William Conklin permalink
    April 2, 2020 12:31 pm

    Yes, it is time for Capitalism to kiss its own a** and move over for an economic system that puts people first. Maybe the value of Corona is that it will force the change.

  3. Sarge Cheever permalink
    April 2, 2020 3:53 pm

    “toxic icing on an already toxic cake.”  Good line!   fsc 

  4. Mike Schoenberg permalink
    April 2, 2020 8:56 pm

    I’ve never forgotten what Doug said when we had that Col. Coalition against bombing Iran. I asked about something and he asked what was I going to do about it. Other cities have restaurants to feed kids. Are we willing to back up a restaurant to do this.

  5. tim mccarthy permalink
    April 3, 2020 1:01 pm

    for more on governor Cuomo, read Joe Lauria’s article today in Consortium news.

    good Hemispheres this week

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