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Counting Birds – and Homeless Tents in Colorado (and Birds at Lowell Ponds Today)

July 24, 2020

 

Mama wood duck looking out for her chicks. Lowell Ponds, S. Adams County , Colorado. July 23, 2020

1.

This year’s annual bird count, which took place in February, now is joined by another count – that of the Denver area homeless living in tents. The tent count was the brain child of Denver Out Loud, Colorado’s well oiled, politically sophisticated movement for homeless rights.

Counting birds and homeless tents, oddly enough, go hand in hand.

My sense is that unlike many U.S. cities (New York City, Los Angeles) Denver does not count or keep a close track of homeless tents and that Denver Out Loud’s effort to do was, among other things, an embarrassment for the city found of saying – as it displaces them, “them” being, working and middle class folk, people of color – how much it “celebrates diversity.”

Trumping through the brush along the creeks flowing east from the mountains – Ralston Creek, Coal Creek, Clear Creek, Bear Creek, along the gullies – Sanderson and Lakewood Gullies – more often than not I run into as many homeless tents as I do birds to photograph. Yesterday, I found another half dozen to add to the list. I would be surprised if they are included, hidden as they are in the brush on both sides of Clear Creek as it flows east through west Denver towards the South Platte. They seem to be multiplying by the week.

Explaining the tent count to the media, Denver Out Loud spokeswoman Terese Howard commented,

“The fact that we have a moment now where our mass homelessness is visible means that we have a moment to face reality and start working on real solutions which means housing,”

In the last few months, it seems, homeless tent colonies have sprung up all over the city and beyond.

As noted in a local media report, On Jan. 27, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative counted 996 people living without shelter in Denver during the annual Point-in-Time Count. Howard estimates the current number to be much higher.

Howard said 17 volunteers spread out across the city. They counted 154 tents at Lincoln Park and 80 tents at the encampment by Morey Middle School. They came up with 664 tents in all, some sprinkled in the downtown area around the Capitol, others along 14th Ave near St. Johns’ Church, still others along the creeks and gullies running into the South Platte.

Kingfisher, near Clear Creek. S. Adams County, Colorado. July 23, 2020

Several friends in the neighborhood, among them Kathy Hamilton participate in the tent count. Cathy called and asked if I had any suggestions and I did. Frequently on my hikes out to photograph birds I’ve come across homeless tents, rigged shelters and the like. Today I stumbled across yet another half dozen that I had not previously noticed, hidden in the vicinity of Clear Creek. I try not to disturb the folks stuck there. They are justifiably nervous when a big old man like myself emerges trampling through the brush.

In a “Zoom discussion” with old friends from what some of you Denver people might remember was the “Radical Information Project” book store (17th Ave and Clarkson – long gone) the question of the homeless came up. Two points from that discussion:

  • Denver has 667 (or so – probably more) homeless tents in which approximately 1350 non-sheltered homeless reside according to Denver Out Loud’s July 17 “homeless tent count; Los Angeles has more than 44,000 non-sheltered homeless by way of comparison
  • We were wondering how and if residents of the United States that do not have fixed addresses are counted in the 2020 census and concerned that they won’t be or will be seriously under-counted.

How has the state’s liberal facade of a governor, Jared Polis, responded to the Denver homeless crisis and the flowering of homeless tents all over the state? By allocating state funds for toilets, showers, health and mental health care for Colorado’s homeless? No. He’s calling on the city of Denver to sweep homeless off of state property city and authorizing the Colorado State Patrol – that same organization, previously called the Colorado State Militia that destroyed the Ludlow mining strikers camp killing 11 – to help in the effort.

As a Denver Out Loud press release notes:

Yesterday, July 23rd 2020, Governor Polis called on Denver to kick homeless people living in tents on state property, including Lincoln Park and around the Governor’s Mansion, out through police force. Polis said he “encourages any law enforcement to remove them.” Later that day, Michael Robinson, Executive Director of Safety for Denver, issued a “delegation of authority” to enable Colorado State Troopers to enforce a variety of Denver laws on State property (and the adjacent city owned public right of way strips).

2.

It was a fine day to take my mind off of the Trump Administration sending its goon squad to Portland (and soon other places) to go tramping around Lowell Ponds from Lowell to Tennyson, across Clear Creek and back again to Lowell Blvd twice.

No new bird species but a fair number of the familiar ones that hang out in these parts: more Western Kingbirds, a Kingfisher, a Snowy Egret, a Black crowned Heron, a Great Blue Heron and a Mama wood duck guarding over her brew of chicks and  – what I refer to as “the usual crowd” this time of year, this with a number of more homeless tents set up in the brush out of sight from the bicycle path that runs along the creek.

Have seen more Western Kingbirds – those fearless yellow-bellied (literally) birds that take great pleasure in harassing eagles and ospreys – and wood ducks this year than in the past.

Am drawn to the wood ducks, impressed watching the tender loving care Mama wood duck gives to her offspring and how ferocious she gets when Papa wood duck makes a feeble effort to get too close. She lets him know he is – now that he has done his evolutionary duty – now irrelevant and of no consequence, pretty much summing up the male role for most living things. He is more colorful though. Useless other than planting the seed, but otherwise irrelevant.

Ducks are long gone north with the exception of a few varieties that hang out along the S. Platte and some of its tributaries. They’ll be back in the fall sometime.

 

Snowy Egret. Lowell Ponds, S. Adams County Colorado. July 23, 2020

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