Denver Public Library Offers a Day of Hugs, Empathy to Fight Homelessness

In the midst of a grim summer of terrorist attacks, political strife and racial tension, it can be difficult to stay focused on the positive. But folks at the Denver Public Library, which has been at the vanguard of discussions about homelessness in the city, have an unusual day of services, events and activities coming up this weekend that promises to create more connections than divisions on the issue — and even a few hugs in the bargain. 

The DPL's Community Engagement team is calling Saturday's daylong offerings the Empathy Project, "designed for participants to better understand the journey of others in our community." It's both a community get-together, with an emphasis on better understanding of the realities of homelessness, and a "Care Fair" to connect homeless individuals with resources and information about shelters, housing opportunities, health screenings and other services. 

Participants will be invited to create a cardboard sign, offering a message of hope or some reflection on the creator's own experiences with adversity; the signs will be displayed for visitors to contemplate in coming weeks. There will also be a trip to the History Colorado Center to check out its "Searching for Home" exhibit, followed by a chance to work with the Lighthouse Writers Workshop to write about the experience. There's even a board game that "allows players to experience the challenges of life on the streets in a way that increases understanding and builds a bridge between the sheltered and the homeless" — an idea that sounds like it could go very wrong, except that "each game station will be hosted by a player who has recently moved out of homelessness."

Snacks, music from local musicians, and an actual sit-down dinner in the library are also on the menu. Before the bread-breaking, though, a hugathon is planned for the Acoma Plaza on the west side of the library, an event inspired by the Free Hugs Campaign that's cropped up around the world. And they do mean free: "The only cost is the bravery and boldness that it might take to reach out to another human being to let them know they are valued and seen."

It all gets under way on Saturday, July 16, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Central Library, at 14th and Broadway. For more information, call 720-865-1111 or check out the Empathy Project page. 
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast