First person: I was evicted and it was traumatic as all hell

Jenee Donalson, 31, community organizer/artist/chef, resident of Denver

I was given a notice of eviction on Nov. 12, 2012. I didn’t know anything about the process of eviction. No one told me anything. I didn’t know how to reach out for help.

When I saw the paper stuck to my door, all I saw was ‘Eviction.’ I couldn’t read the small print, it was traumatic as all hell. And I didn’t go to court to fight it because I’m, like, what are they going to do for me? It’s already over. I’ve been in this home for six years and now it’s gone.

So I get the bare minimum of what I need from my house. I’m telling you, there was stuff. I’m a minimalist now for a reason and it’s because you never know. Everything in here [in this apartment] can be easily broken down and taken out and I know what my bare minimums are. But then I didn’t know. So we are getting all my bare minimum stuff out, I have my things in [my friend’s] truck. We sit in the truck outside of the entire thing and I watched them take my stuff out and I have fears of being arrested. I have fears of people seeing me cry or break down. I have fears of people seeing my things being thrown out. My life is all the way out there. I had a cute little whiskey barrel filled with potatoes and eggplants, I watched them knock that over to get my couch out. It was hard to watch, this is where I had grown and been my own person. I hid in my friend’s truck, like, this is how you say goodbye to something.

I owed $600, but the actual process of eviction, the legal fees, cleaning fees, all that cost me $3,000. I had to start paying off $3,000 and also find a new home.

Related | The Denver Boot: Inside a destructive side effect of the city’s affordable housing crisis

When I was looking for apartments with an eviction, it was automatic no. And they would let me pay application fees knowing that. I’m losing $25 here, $50 there and I don’t have a car because I sold that when I was getting evicted, so I was taking the bus. So you lose time and money and dignity within self because of these things. Your soul suffers.

I was literally couch surfing for four years. The entire time I didn’t have a residence that was completely mine, I questioned my own value. Like, ‘What good are you, you don’t have a home. You are like a leech living in someone else’s house.’ That’s what it’s like. I was like ‘I have a college degree. I show up to community functions. I am homeless.’

You are just like ‘Maybe this wasn’t enough. Maybe I wasn’t doing enough. Maybe I am not enough.’ And I thought that way for years. It’s because it’s so simple. It’s the simplest thing. It’s a roof. It’s a place to feel safe.

I don’t have a child, and I assumed that I needed a child to get into subsidized housing, Sec. 8. That was my ignorance. It was confusing, public housing, subsidized housing. I thought my application would be weighed heavier if I had a child. And that was something I considered so many times. I was like, ‘If I just lay under some dude.’ Oh, yeah. It is easily considerable. Let me tell you how quickly you can bring a child into this world that you don’t want because you need housing. It’s not a game. And it’s not that I don’t want kids, but you have to wonder what your motives were when you were actually doing it. Are you lonely? Are you horny? Are you trying to get into a home?

Shelter is a basic human right. This is a basic thing that we have to have.

When I hear ‘low-income,’ housing, first of all, I am not low-income. I am underpaid and underserved. Affordable housing is not a luxury, man. That shouldn’t even be a term.

The eviction stood incredibly clear and fast on my credit report for three years. I had gotten it down to $1,900 after the last year. I was like ‘It’s time for this to go,’ so I couch-surfed with a few people I knew could be compassionate about the situation and I paid back my eviction within six months.

I have lived here almost a year. I still have the same fears. When I come home, I still look on my door first, even if I paid rent.

[My rent] is $800 a month. It’s a one-bedroom, one-bath. That’s like 60, 70 percent of my gross income. I would love to be able to apply to a second apartment that was lower in rent. I am [also] in total realization of the fact of how lucky I am to be here and to be able to land for at least a year.

You can’t expect to have an economy that is all growth and not take care of the population that is making it grow. Who is sustaining that? Who is keeping your water clean? Who is teaching your kids? The people who built this, the people who make the city are going to have to leave, and they are leaving. People are moving to areas where they can actually afford to live. And that’s just what it is.


As told to Tina Griego. Edited and condensed for brevity and clarity. Photo by Tina Griego


Tina was a city columnist for the late great Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post. She left Denver for Richmond, Virginia in 2012 and learned the joys of news editing at the city’s alternative newspaper, Style Weekly, and its premiere city mag, Richmond Magazine. She was also a staff writer for the Washington Post and its Storyline public policy/narrative journalism project. She has national recognition for her reporting on immigration, education and urban poverty. Tina lives in Fort Collins with her husband and two kids. She’s a native New Mexican and prefers red over green.


  1. Tiny, I rode light-rail one day with a woman who told me she grew up in Aurora but could no longer afford to live there. She was about 45 years old and was looking to move out of metro Denver.

  2. CJ – The only one angry and resentful here is YOU. Your response is spewing with bitterness and blame. Yes, it’s a dog eat dog world and we all need to strive hard and get lucky to survive. It sounds like you are fortunate enough to be well paid for your field of work (high tech? finance?) which is truly fortunate because so much of what makes this city and world a good place to be is drastically underpaid. Venture capitalists aren’t interested in those things.

  3. Tina,

    That was a very brave article. An old English teacher of mine was fond of saying that good writing is when you “sit down at at a typewriter and bleed”. I lost my job in 07 and felt many of the same feelings.

    I wish you best of luck and happiness in your new home.

    Mike in Maryland

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