Denver: A haven for monied millennials, a hazard for the poor

Denver ranks sixth in the list of cities with the largest populations of rich millennials.

Yes, this is new Denver — the same city that evicted the homeless from, well, homelessness, earlier this month. Dump trucks showed up near downtown camps and workers loaded them up with the few possessions of the poorest of the poor.

This is how The Denver Post’s Tom McGhee started his story about the sweep:

Homeless people and their advocates screamed obscenities Tuesday as public works crews cleared away camps where many of the homeless have been living.

Denver police stood by, receiving their share of abuse.

Poor law enforcement, right?

Just ask the families of Marvin Booker or Michael Lee Marshall — homeless men who died at the hands of sheriff’s deputies in the jail — how sensitive Denver’s law enforcement system is when it comes to addressing the experience of living without a home.

Related: Michael Lee Marshall and Marvin Booker: Parallels in life and death

Or ask the clients and volunteers at Catholic Worker homeless shelter, which burned this winter as a behemoth condo rose to loom above Five Points — a neighborhood once known as the Harlem of the West, which is now a white hipster enclave for downtown workers.

Related: Fire burns Catholic Workers out of Five Points. Development booms. 

Denver’s homeless can’t be guaranteed a safe spot on the streets, in shelters, in houses or apartments — and not even in jail — under the policies of Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration.

Things are so dire that housing advocates have been trained with talking points to softened the no-housing blow: You’re probably not going to find shelter in this city. How does that make you feel?

Related: Breaking bad news to affordable housing seekers

City officials justify the sweep by saying the filth and the grime of the homeless camps were a health hazard. 

Point taken. But if you have no home and you can’t live outside, what exactly are you supposed to do? Roll over and die? Isn’t that a health hazard too?

This is what the ACLU of Colorado’s Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley had to say the day of the sweeps:

“The ACLU of Colorado is deeply concerned by the City of Denver’s approach to the visible presence of people who are homeless downtown, including today’s sweep and seizure of personal possessions in the areas directly adjacent to the Rescue Mission, St. Francis Center, and Samaritan House. 

Since the last sweep of the same area on a frigid, snowy December night last year, the number of people trying to exist and survive without housing in Denver has continued to grow.  Denver residents are understandably discomforted and frustrated by the sight of so many poor and vulnerable people living in extreme poverty.  The answer to that discomfort and frustration cannot be increased criminalization and draconian sweeps that push away and attempt to hide impoverished people out of sight.  Criminalization and displacement are shortterm approaches that exacerbate rather than solve root causes of poverty and homelessness. 

People who are homeless deserve the right to rest, the right to move freely in public spaces, and the fundamental right to be secure in their personal belongings, especially when those belongings are all that they have in the world.

The problem comes down to this: Denver’s median rent is $1,942 and the median home value is $331,100, according to Zillow. The median household income is $69,205 as of 2014. In other words, good luck finding a place to live if you’re not earning anything near that rate — or if you’re not earning anything at all.

The prices aren’t the least bit daunting to millennial techies who are are flocking to the city. Some 3.3 percent of them net an annual income of more than $350,000 a year. They can afford — and afford to drive up — the housing market.

Zillow’s explanation for the rich millennial boom? “Few housing markets are as hot as in Denver, where an influx of energy, finance and tech jobs have attracted young people to high-paid positions.”

The market’s so hot it burns. 

Photo credit: Photo credit: Geoff Livingston, Creative Commons, Flickr


  1. As a Republican leader… I have a heart for this issue. The treatment of the poor in America is an absolute disgrace.

    Cutting up people’s tents etc is basically a “kicking them when they’re down” crime against God.

    The scripture advises us to have a heart for the poor, and to be charitable. And to take those cast out into our own homes.

    The treatment of the poor and those who try to help them in America is inexcusable. Another sin and blight upon our once great nation.

  2. As a lifelong resident of central Denver, it is disheartening and what I can only describe as surreal to watch some of the mutations our city is undergoing.

    Growing pains are to be expected when a city experiences such accelerated growth, but there are choices to be made along the way about how we want that growth to affect us.

    I have come to see the housing shortages, criminalization of homelessness and the draconian “sweeps” of the all-to-visible downtown corridors it yields as part of the same malfunction; rather than address the causes of the real and growing consequences of poorly managed growth, our city’s policies clumsily-and inhumanely-target it’s symptoms.

  3. I love City Park, the views and the location are ideal for me. In fact, I think I’ll just set up camp and stay there this summer, that should be fine, right? Homelessness is not a simple problem, if it was it would have been solved by now. Lack of compassion is certainly not the issue. I’ve met the police officers that work that area, they are the ones in the trenches trying to help. Ask anyone who works with the homeless, they’ll tell you there are places for them to go, they refuse and prefer to live on the street. It’s not a crime to be homeless, but being so is not a pass that enables you to ignore other laws. And by the way, their possessions blocking the sidewalks weren’t simply thrown away as the article implies, there are places to store them. Gabriel, I don’t claim to be able to speak directly for God but believe in those scriptures you refer is plenty of support for the phrase God helps those who help themselves. Could we as a society more compassionate?P Probably and I’m all for it, but that’s not the issue here.

  4. I am so torn on this issue. Shelters are nowhere near capacity, so many of these individuals are choosing to sleep outside on their own accord. Why this is, I can’t say, but it follows intuition that it has something to do with alcohol and drug use being prohibited in the shelters.

    Also, living in Capitol Hill where there is essentially no police presence more than a block from Colfax, they are an absolute nuisance. I’ve had packages stolen, been woken by fights in the alley, had my window urinated on (I live in a basement/garden level apartment), and there is always trash strewn around our dumpster from them rummaging through it.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but when people refuse to go to shelters when there is space, my empathy is tempered. Someone please tell me if they have a different perspective that I should consider.

  5. I am now ashamed to call myself a transplant. I moved here six years ago on a college scholarship. I decided to stay in hopes of reinvesting my education in the city that bore it. It brings disgust to population boom ignoring the existing community seemingly ignorant of their affect upon it. There even seems to be a lack of mere curiosity as to Denver’s/Denver neighborhood’s history and culture.

    Homelessness on this scale is not a reflection of individual choice but rather of societal structure and resource access. A person without a home’s choice to not a stay in a shelter does not warrant ignoring the problem or blaming the individual. While shelters are crucial they are also a short-term solution often wrought with danger for the individuals who stay there.

    Solutions reside in the root causes of homelessness: income inequality, living wages, wealth distributions and access/protection of affordable housing. These issues are structural and require civic engagement. You almost can’t blame a legislative rep for siding with developers and fat pockets. They are in a system that incentives such. They will continue to do so without demand from their constituents/community members.

    We must foster an interest into the new flux of wealthy transplants into the Denver’s poverty and housing problems. We must demand community awareness and engagement from them. Remind them they are moving into a community that already exists. Demand through civic engagement seems to be one of the only viable routes in stemming these atrocities.

    The veil of concern for hygiene is a flimsy one. Homelessness makes people uncomfortable. And it should.

    Our interest in resolving the issue should stem from both care for our neighbors and self-interest in having a strong, healthy community for the longterm as we are only as strong as the our foundation. Not from wanting one’s walk to the dog park to be more “comfortable.” Making the existence of a homeless person illegal will not vanquish human beings.

    Gentrification is an inevitability of our system however, we bear the duty of channeling growth in a way that benefits the majority of the community rather than a few.

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