In the early years of Denver, having no housing was bad, and much worse.
A two-part piece titled Homeless in Denver was in the newsletter for the Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy Department. The author is Alex Hernandez, a reference librarian in that department — and the beginning is beyond bleak. (This department, which I have spent many happy hours doing research there, is not open at this time, though they are working to figure out when customers may return.)
This is Hernandez’s first paragraph in the first part:
“As the Colorado economy has grown and housing prices have skyrocketed, we have been witness to a highly visible rise in homelessness. It would be a mistake, however, to think this is a new problem. In fact, Denver’s lack of housing and substandard housing goes back to the time of Westward Expansion. As soon as the Gold Rush hit, land speculators arrived, and those without means would often continue on in their meager subsistence. According to local historian Phil Goodstein, the 1870s saw a boom in poverty and insufficient housing to match the boom in industrialization.”
Speculators? OK! Sounds familiar, right? Just a different noun.
Denver today is more “enlightened,” but the city still is working to find places where people can find housing. The relatively new Department of Housing Stability works with agencies to partner and support those who need housing. Recently, the city council’s Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee OK’d $18 million for nine contracts to work with organizations.
Since Denver became a city, there were similar problems years ago when certain agencies scraped downtown housing and other areas. It has been boom and bust and boom again, but with a huge influx coming to Denver in the past decade, the prices of homes and rents have gone through the roof. It will be interesting to learn how many people live in Denver when the 2020 census is revealed later this year.
Writer Hernandez included this paragraph, which was published January 3, 1897 in The Rocky Mountain News:
“The building of this abode certainly did not consume over a day or two. A vigorous wielding of a pair of shovels soon gouged into the embankment a crevice about two feet in breadth at the opening and about two feet in diameter inside. The roof is old mother earth, strengthened by a few rotten boards. The house comprises one room, which is intended to be circular in shape and is about ten feet across. Several thicknesses of gunny sacks do for a doorway and a hole, through which is thrust a rusty piece of stovepipe, stolen from some dump pile, carries the smoke out of the cave.”
Now we have tents. But that’s not much better. The irony is that so many homes have been demolished and replaced by new homes that are so much pricier, which goes hand and hand with the gentrification that has pushed people out.
Below are two links to the columns about the changes in what kind of housing had been created – and lost – in Denver. Also, there is a link to a story in Colorado Politics, which includes this quote:
“ ‘There is an absolute crisis of homelessness on our doorstep right now that we have to respond to,’ said Angie Nelson with the Denver Department of Housing Stability, saying that HOST ‘decided to go big and procure for every type of program that we have.’ ”