Soup With a Smile

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He showers at city recreation centers and takes meals here several times a week. Until September he was living in a duplex, but he got kicked out when he couldn't make the rent. "I screwed up," he says.

When Paul talks about his teenage son, whom he sees now and then, his eyes well up. "Do you have someone to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with?" he asks. "That's nice."

According to Paul, half the people who come to the soup kitchen are crazy. He thinks the rest are divided between those who don't want to work and others whose lives have been ruined by alcohol or drugs.

Across the table, a young black man with a kind face moans as he eats his soup. "My name is Charles," he says, hunched over the bowl. He grew up in New Mexico, then came to Denver a couple of years ago when he heard there was work here. He had a good job, an apartment in Capitol Hill and a girlfriend.

Then one day his girlfriend introduced him to crack cocaine, and everything went to hell.

He's lost touch with his family. Charles says two of his brothers are already dead, and he doesn't seem to think the others would want to hear from him. He has a young daughter in California and says her mother is a good, kind woman, but he doesn't want to call them, either.

Nobody wants to be around a crackhead.

Now he spends his days walking the streets, trying to decide if his life is worth saving. If he could give up the crack, the Denver Rescue Mission has a program that helps people restart their lives. But he doesn't know if he can.

"Sometimes I wish the homeless killer would kill me while I'm sleeping," says Charles. "If I had sleeping pills, I'd take them."

Your daughter misses you. She wonders where you are, says the stranger across the table. Don't give up -- you still have something to give to the world.

Charles smiles wanly as he bundles up to head back to the streets. "Thank you for thinking about me," he says before disappearing into the dark.

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers