By Katherine Jarvis, Joining Vision and Action

I am a person of much privilege. I was raised in a solidly middle- to upper-middle class family, went to decent suburban public schools, attended a prestigious private liberal arts school for college, and I have never in my life experienced housing insecurity. It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to spend every day not knowing where I was going to sleep that night.

On Tuesday evening, June 5, the Denver Arts and Venues Cultural Partner Program along with Chris Conner (program administrator for Denver Human Services’ Denver’s Road Home) hosted an event unlike any other I have attended. Chris, who leads the city of Denver’s efforts to invest in tools and services that help those experiencing homelessness, was sent the true story by a father, Frank (who asked that his last name not be shared) about his experiences living for a week on the streets of Denver with his homeless, drug-addicted son, Tommy. Frank shared: “The only thing I could think of was just go there, and be with him and love him, show how much his family loves him.”

Struck by Frank and Tommy’s story, Conner contacted local pastor Jerry Herships (pictured above)—whose congregation can be found serving lunch to the homeless daily in Civic Center Park—to share a live reading of Frank’s essay. A panel of experts in addiction and homelessness was invited to speak after the reading to provide further context to the powerful narrative.

What struck me the most throughout the event was just how big this problem is and how far it extends.

At last count, in 2017, volunteers counted 10,940 people experiencing homelessness across Colorado.[2] At the time of the Metro Denver Homelessness Initiative (MDHI) 2017 point-in-time (PIT) count, 5,116 people were experiencing homelessness in the seven-county Denver metro area.[3]

In the city of Denver, several outstanding organizations are working tirelessly to provide services such as street outreach and transitional housing, as well as food and other concrete supports. JVA has been honored to support some of these organizations—such as the Denver Rescue Mission, Catholic Charities, Urban Peak, The Delores Project and Mile High Behavioral Healthcare—throughout the greater metro Denver area. Yet there are still so many who are underserved and who continue to live on the streets for a variety of often complex reasons, including mental health issues, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and poverty, to name a few.

So how can we address the issue?

How do we solve homelessness once and for all? Can we, in fact, solve the problem? I wish I could wrap up this post with a bright shiny answer for you, but unfortunately, I cannot. However, I can say that events and conversations like this one are a great contribution.

I encourage you to listen to the panel discussion, posted here, and form your own thoughts on how best to tackle this issue.

You can also listen to Frank’s story here. Be forewarned, it contains adult content that may not be suitable for young children, and it may be triggering for some. Should you need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call the Colorado Crisis and Support Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).