By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Every night after the 8 p.m. free meal at the Denver Rescue Mission, 18-year-old Shantrell and 24-year-old A.K. walk six blocks to claim their spot on the porch of a vacant building at the edge of Five Points. Their home-away-from-homeless at 500 Park Avenue West is the first of six attached brick rowhouses that have served as an unofficial hotel for transients for more than a year.
The unofficial residents of 500-518 Park Avenue West have turned the covered porches into mini-apartments by propping pieces of cardboard and wood against the railings to create temporary walls against the busy street. For Shantrell and A.K., even this porch is a big improvement over the parking lot where they were sleeping until three weeks ago. That was when some friends told them about the rowhouses, and the empty spot where earlier transients had left some mattresses. The young couple added their own blankets and sleeping bag.
On October 25, even though it is warm for a late October evening, Shantrell and A.K. huddle together on the porch. The sleep they get here is short and light, they say, because they have to remain somewhat alert for drunks and crackheads who regularly get high behind the building. The day before, Shantrell's backpack was stolen right off the porch. And after nearby residents again complained to the city, the cops have been coming by more often and messing with people, A.K. explains.
"From what I heard from other people, one cop said for us to leave," says Shantrell. "He took down names and said, 'I'm going to give you guys a warning, but I'm going to come back.'"
But Shantrell also heard that the police can't force them to leave until the city reaches the actual owner of the property. "The owner obviously knows what's going on, and he doesn't really give a crap," she says.
When Dan Maas moved into a townhome just northeast of downtown two years ago, he had no idea he'd soon be living next to what he calls the "homeless hotel."
Since his place is just six blocks from the long-established Samaritan House shelter, he understood that homeless people would pass through the neighborhood. But he didn't know that they'd camp out so close, at the corner of Park Avenue West and Glenarm Street, in a vacant bungalow and a half-dozen decrepit rowhouses covered with graffiti and weathered posters. The front yards are filled with weeds, broken glass and trash, the sunken brick entryways and back yards littered with mattresses and clothing.
"It's a magnet," Maas says. "Every evening at seven, the shopping carts come, you've got people fighting over the mattresses. You'll have a hundred people over there trying to get spots!"
Those who don't get spots will spill into the neighboring yards and even the stoops of homes where people actually live. But seeing them sleeping or drinking or digging through his dumpster isn't the worst of it. "I'll be driving past the place and there will be some guy squatting, taking a crap at two in the afternoon in the middle of the lot," Maas says. He's tired of the homeless hotel, worries about what it's doing to the neighborhood. And then there's the garage behind the vacant bungalow at 2255 Glenarm — across the street from Ebert Elementary School — which has become a drug den.
"You remove those buildings or fix them up, and this whole area improves a lot," he says. "I just don't know what you can do."
In situations like this, a lot of people might call Colorado's best-known consumer advocate, Tom Martino, "The Troubleshooter." For the past two decades, the television and radio personality has gone after unethical and unresponsive companies, often by tracking down and confronting business owners on camera. Approved companies can pay as much as $5,000 annually to be part of the Troubleshooter Network, making Martino's grinning mug a regular sight on the sides of buses or in newspaper advertisements for plumbers and carpenters.
Such workers would be a welcome sight at this corner of Glenarm. But there's just one problem: One owner of the troubled properties is the Troubleshooter himself. Over the past year, Denver code-enforcement inspectors and police officers have sent numerous missives to one Thomas G. Martino regarding alleged health and safety violations at these addresses.
The city's Treasury Department has also sent Martino — a self-styled real-estate expert who frequently offers advice about mortgages and property investment on his show — numerous alerts that his properties on Welton and Glenarm streets are currently under lien for more than $140,000 in delinquent property taxes. In early October, it printed a list of all outstanding property taxes for the year. If those taxes are not paid off by October 31, the tax liens will go up for auction on November 3, allowing an investor to buy the debts owed on the properties and collect 11 percent interest annually until they are paid off by the owner. And if the taxes aren't paid in three years, the lien-holder can apply to take over the deeds to the properties.