In this week's feature, "Bed Check," we take an in-depth look at the services available in Denver for homeless women, some of whom describe a daily struggle filled with high-stakes lotteries to find sanctuary. For the piece, we spent time with members of the Women's Homeless Initiative, a coalition of volunteer churches that provides emergency beds each night. Here, we have a letter from one of WHI's regular participants, recounting firsthand what it's like to be on the streets.
Julie Hale, 48, who has struggled with homelessness on and off since 1995, tells us that she didn't have anywhere reliable to stay until these churches came together and began opening up their doors to single women in need of shelter. WHI launched in March as a pilot program and has grown since, attracting more women who may have otherwise been on the street.
Before she found the churches, Hale would sometimes sleep outside in groups or ride buses or the light rail when she couldn't find a place inside. And she still does today from time to time. As we explore in our feature, the church lotteries have daily wait lists that result in an average of seven women being turned away on a given day. Saturdays are especially competitive, since WHI only has twelve beds available, as opposed to the regular twenty.
Officials say that between the various emergency, transitional and voucher programs for women -- including a recently announced fifty-mat overflow shelter -- there are enough safe spaces each night for them. WHI is just one piece of that puzzle, and one the city says it very much appreciates.
But the experience of many of those who keep coming back to the churches -- and aren't strangers to bad luck and rejection -- is that there's just not enough spaces. Moreover, a spot on the wait list can mean a night without a roof. The city's new overflow winter space exclusively for women -- which opened its doors for the first time last week -- will likely make a big difference in accommodating those who get turned away from the various emergency options that exist at WHI and a few other women's locations.
Still, Hale says it has been a rough summer and fall, especially since the city began enforcing its controversial camping ban, making it illegal to sleep outside.
One morning that we spent at St. Francis Center, a daytime refuge for homeless men and women where the WHI lottery is run, Hale, unprompted, wrote us an essay about her experiences with homelessness.
Here is her letter, unedited, with photocopies of the original handwritten note below.
Being homeless is not something to laugh about. In many ways, it's really dangerous.
It can happen to everyone, anyone, in all walks of life, you just never know when.
You never know how it happens until you really truly ask questions. Sometimes the answers can be so devastating and shocking hard to hear and listen to it.
Being homeless teaches you more about the true surrounding you ar really in. It gives you knowledge of whom you really are, and those around you.
It truly is a give or take situation, and to survive it, is to understand it. If you've never experienced it, you won't understand it, or understand what we go through each and every day, day or night.
Until you take that chance and swallow your pride and go and truly explore it for yourself you will never learn the knowledge of homelessness and or learn how to survive it, the surroundings, the situation and or what we truly really go through.
All the fights, deaths, beatings, rapes, stealings, finding a place to sleep, food, something to drink, even a true friend is hard to come by. And also during all this the feelings are so emotional.
Because there's no where to really go being afraid of being caught by the police and arrested for just laying your head to rest.
Having to move around and hoping and praying never to get bothered is where you worry once again, so cat naps is what it's all about.
Everyone has their own stories to tell, but when will anyone be kind enough to really have a heart and listen to the calls and cries of the homeless, misunderstood, beaten and robbed left alone defenseless and uncared for.
Outside unsafe and wandering around not knowing what's going to happen next. A chance we all have to take, in all walks of Life.
Not knowing what's next is the hardest.
Not knowing who to really trust is even worse.
The worst of it all, is not knowing id you're going to live or die. (The best is knowing you're awake for a new day).
But all in all is knowing we can make the worst situation a happy situation and help each other make the best out of it. That way we don't go insane, because all we have is ourselves, and the few true really good friends that keep us going everyday and that's something more valuable to wake up to and stay alive for.
And here's the original copy Hale gave us.
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