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The loss of an apartment and a blow to the knee took a former boxer from federally subsidized housing in Englewood to living in a tent on the South Platte River.
“I’ve been stuck at a standstill,” said David Morrison, 39, whose knee was injured in July 2016 when a car struck him as he rode his bike to the post office. Two months later, mold in his apartment led to a failed inspection. And Morrison, a Montana native who came to Colorado for boxing, had to move out. He had lived in Englewood since 2012 with help from federal subsidies.
Morrison nearly secured another apartment. But when he couldn’t get an extension to wait for the current tenant to move out, he lost his housing voucher. Earning less than $800 per month, he said, it was pointless to keep looking. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Englewood was about $1,175 in mid-2016, according to ApartmentList.com.
“It was getting dark, and I was at that moment where I was just like, (forget) it,” said Morrison, a short, lean figure with a goatee. “I need to be somewhere where no one’s gonna mess with me.”
He had “heard sketchy stories about shelters,” so he chose to stay by the South Platte River instead.
Morrison roamed around and found a quiet spot between West Hampden and Oxford avenues, just outside Englewood’s west edge. He would routinely wake up at 5 a.m. to leave for work as a cook at an Aramark grill in the Town of Morrison. To get there, he rode his bike more than 10 miles, enduring pain in the knee damaged by the crash.
“It was very painful, but I liked my job, so I would just torture myself,” Morrison said. He couldn’t leave his belongings behind, so he would strap everything to his bike. (In December 2016, Morrison had surgery at Porter Adventist Hospital, covered by Medicaid, to repair the knee.)
He avoided getting in trouble, returning to set up camp at about 10 p.m. In February 2017, a tax return allowed him to buy a $1,300 used van. But he had run-ins with police, who would wake him to question why he was there and tell him to leave Englewood, he said.
In October 2017, Morrison began parking near West Dartmouth Avenue in the river area, near other RVs and vans. Over the next four months, he said he saw an increase in the number of cars parking near him. When he was camping on the river, he said he also had perceived about a 15 percent increase in the number of people staying on the Platte in campsites.
Morrison found food and assistance at several homeless-resource centers, including Giving Heart in Englewood and Father Woody’s Haven of Hope in Denver.
“You kinda have to travel to find a meal,” Morrison said. He did it by “bicycle, walking, public transportation — however I could get around.”
He applied for housing through the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in late 2016, but it wasn’t until last January that he got an apartment with federal funding in the southwest Denver area. With the help of a student loan and financial aid, he enrolled at Metropolitan State University of Denver where he’s studying exercise science. He wants to be a personal trainer and boxing coach.
His favorite part of having an apartment is being in a warm place.
“I don’t have to have a flashlight to do my homework ‘til midnight,” Morrison said. “Before I was housed, I was sitting in a van doing my homework until 11:30 or 12 at night, freezing.”
A laid-back man with a wide smile, Morrison said people should be less judgmental about the homeless.
“In general, things in life happen,” he said. “So don’t judge a book by its cover ... take the time to smile and say hi.”
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