I grew up in a not-very-big house in Virginia Village where I shared a room with one of my siblings for most of my childhood. Even though we had pretty tight living quarters to begin with, my parents still opened our little home to anyone who needed it — throughout my life, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends from high school and coworkers from various jobs lived with us (at one point, we cohabitated with another family of five, meaning there were ten of us in our one-story, three bedroom mini-ranch.) Looking back, I realize that it was this simple gesture of opening our house to others that taught me how to share. Share what you've got, even if it's only a little.
Over the last few weeks, Denver has experienced some efforts and actions that have brought the current state of housing in the metro area into the spotlight. It's no secret that as the city has been growing at what feels like a crushing pace, it's leaving many folks out of the equation — just because Denver is seeing major economic prosperity in some areas doesn't mean it's translating to opportunity for all. Yesterday, housing activists took to the City Council to protest the city's current Urban Camping Ban. This was on the heels of an action that took place in downtown Denver last weekend, when a tiny house encampment was resurrected and then aggressively torn down by police. In some good housing news, a judge has decided that the Denver Rescue Mission is finally allowed to open it's much-needed, multi-million dollar Lawrence Street Community Center, despite opposition from some who live in the community.
With these recent moves bringing the ongoing issue of affordable housing in Denver to a larger audience, I have started to notice friends who aren't usually very vocal using social media to bring attention the crisis. It has been inspiring to see so many people raise their voices in support of others. It had me thinking: what if you want to help people in need, but you don't know how? Not everyone wants to be part of a political action; some of us are barely hanging on financially and don't have much to give others at the moment. So, what is it that we can do to help Denver in this ongoing dilemma? Here are a few ideas:
If you have the economic means and can share your wealth with others, there are plenty of organizations dealing with the housing crisis in Denver that can always use your financial support. The Denver Rescue Mission is always looking for donations; Urban Peak offers services and support specifically for homeless and at-risk teens; The Gathering Place is a drop-in center created for women and their children; Harm Reduction Action Center is a drop-in center, education and advocacy organization helping injection drug users; Servicios de La Raza offers a variety of culturally-responsive resources for low-income individuals across the metro area. Looking for more places to give your money to? Check out this list of services and organizations via Denver's Road Home. Many of these groups also accept donations of personal and household items, as well as non-perishable foods.
If time is what you have to offer, there are many ways Denver non-profits can use your human power. Catholic Charities needs babysitters; Volunteers of America is always looking for people to deliver meals to seniors and the disabled community; Survivors Organizing for Liberation and it's companion organization Buried Seedz of Resistance need assistance staffing its LGBTQIA-focused crisis hotline. It's about more than just donating a few cans of food or working for a day in a soup kitchen — it's about finding out where your passion fits in best with the community who needs it.
Our City Council makes a lot of decisions when it comes to how Denver serves its population. It's up to us to put the right people in those roles. In 2015, just under 95,000 people voted in Denver's election. In a city of more than 2.9 million people, that's not very many folks using their voting power. Educate yourself and get to the polls — being civically engaged means you care about the future of Denver and all of its residents.
Purchase the Denver Voice
If you ever see a person standing outside of a grocery store or at a busy intersection selling copies of The Denver Voice, buy one. A few things happen when you make this exchange: for one, you support that vendor by continuing their employment, as the seller receives $1.50 of the $2 paper price. But you also get to take a few moments out of your day to interact with a stranger who you may have otherwise walked right past. Denver Voice Vendors — like all people — are human. When we engage with each other, our perception changes — and it's these simple actions that can lead to a real shift in how we help each other.
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Oh, and I should mention The Denver Voice isn't just some shoddy, thrown-together newsletter — it's well-reported pieces from journalists working on global issues of homelessness printed alongside creative work and first-person accounts written by the people selling you the paper. When you throw down $2, you could be meeting an author face-to-face.
Open Your Home
If you've scanned Craigslist at all recently looking for a place to rent, you know that the market is rough. As I helped some friends hunt for an apartment last weekend, I came across something in the classifieds that I hadn't seen before — a family asking for someone to rent to them. Is your home a place where you could temporarily house a friend or someone as they looked for affordable housing? Do you own a property that you might be able to rent to a family at below the market price so they in turn are able to sustain? When we open our eyes to what the people around us truly need and match that with the things and services we can offer, a little bit can go a long way.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies