The Englewood Civic Center community room found itself packed to the brim when about 150 community members came to the first public forum by Change the Trend Network, a coalition of nonprofits, faith-based groups, a health-care provider and the Englewood police established to address homelessness in Englewood.
The group formed last summer, and after introductory statements to the Englewood City Council, Change the Trend came forward with the March 22 forum, where residents engaged in conversation with the coalition.
It’s important to have “safe places for the homeless to go … where they don’t feel threatened, endangered or judged,” said Boo Crosby, a manager at Cafe 180, a restaurant that provides meals in exchange for volunteer service for those who can’t pay.
Crosby, along with other network members on the forum’s panel, encouraged people to get involved. Lynn Ann Huizingh, of the Severe Weather Shelter Network, said her organization works with the help of hundreds of volunteers.
“Without that kind of effort in any of our communities,” Huizingh said, “there will be no change.”
Change the Trend includes representatives from:
• Cafe 180, 3315 S. Broadway, whose homeless clientele sometimes makes up a third or more of its customers;
• The Englewood Police Department, which wants to ensure homelessness isn’t criminalized and help formulate a response, city officials say;
• Giving Heart, 4358 S. Broadway, a resource center where guests can get a hot meal, help with obtaining documentation and birth certificates, and use a computer lab;
• The Severe Weather Shelter Network, a nonprofit that works to shelter homeless individuals at local churches in inclement conditions;
• The Sacred Grace Englewood, 3220 S. Acoma St., a church just outside the Englewood downtown area;
• AllHealth Network, which provides behavioral-health services and has locations in Littleton and the south-metro area;
• And Wellspring Anglican Church, 4300 S. Lincoln St., which gives food, medical and social resources to poor and homeless individuals.
Among the Change the Trend representatives is Adam Becker, who spent more than a decade living in places like parks, along highways and under bridges. Today, he works at Denver’s Porter Place Retirement Community and lives in a duplex on the Denver-Englewood border.
At the March 22 forum, he found a room filled with people who cared enough about people with stories like his.
“A few years ago, I was drunk and homeless, and now, I’m helping drunks and homeless people,” Becker said later. It’s “an opportunity that all of us have — to use the worst parts of our lives to be the biggest gift we can give to others.”
Change the Trend members urged those at the forum to understand how they can help and acknowledged the lack of easy solutions.
“We don’t have the answer,” Crosby said. “That’s why we’re here.”
He encouraged people to get involved, even if just a little. He said Change the Trend wants to work with business leaders, residents and anyone in Englewood.
“The woman who started the cafe had a saying,” Crosby said. “‘If everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot.’”
Panelists identified a number of problems and realities that day:
• Criminal enforcement against homelessness won’t solve the problem, Englewood police Sgt. Reid McGrath said.
• People on the street don’t have a safe place to store belongings while they look for jobs, Huizingh said.
• Placing a homeless person in housing is thousands of dollars less costly than if they stay on the street, said Nathan Hoag, parish pastor at The Sacred Grace.
• Without broad collaboration, change cannot occur, Huizingh said.
But a man in the audience challenged the group, questioning what solution members would give to allow homeless individuals to transition away from help they are receiving.
“The reality is it’s great we are doing the kumbaya thing,” he said, but what will the group do to “not just give them a handout, but give them a hand up?”
In an interview in April, Becker said better understanding the homeless and the challenges they face is key to that distinction.
For instance, he said, the process to get a job can start with needing an ID, which requires documentation and an address.
But that requires getting to a place with someone who will allow an address to be used.
“Pretty soon, your day has gone by,” Becker said, used up looking for a job, but also for food and a place to sleep. “Everywhere you go, you’re pointed in a different direction … lost in the maze.”
Communities can ticket people, carry out “sweeps,” ignore the issue or, he said, embrace the problem and be part of the conversation.
“It’s dirty. It’s messy — it’s hands-on,” Becker said, “but it’s really the only way to get through something. You can’t go above it or below it or around it — you’ve gotta go through it.”
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