New Face of Homelessness

Darlene and Jacob. Teddy. Craig and Margie. All are the new faces of poverty. I met them working on a television story for HDNet’s World Report. The piece is about the impact of the economy on public hospitals. Many hospitals around the country like Denver Health Medical Center are giving away millions and millions of dollars in uncompensated charitable care. For DHMC it was $300 million in 2008. In 2009 the administration is expecting the number to increase to $350 million. That burden is driving many public hospitals into insolvency. The reason the numbers are so staggering is partly because of people who were getting by but now find themselves jobless and uninsured.

Six months ago Darlene and Jacob, Teddy, and Craig and Margie had jobs, homes and middle class incomes to support themselves and their families. Now two families are experiencing homelessness and the other teeters on the brink. Their falls have been fast and hard. Darlene has a college degree and worked in the mortgage industry until October. Her husband Jacob was a tree trimmer. They made over $65,000 a year and at one time lived in a five bedroom home. For months they were on the street with three children in tow. They never in their wildest dreams imagined they would be homeless. They have each other and hope. That’s about it. When they need medical attention they get by on local and state assistance programs. Private health care won’t help them. They thank God for Denver Health.

Teddy lost his job as a machine operator before Thanksgiving. This single dad is living in his father’s house now and was unable to afford his medical expenses when he recently broke two ribs. All he wants is work and being unable to support his family is making him depressed. Craig used to look at homeless people and say “get a job.” Then he lost his supervisor position at a shopping mall before Christmas. He had just returned from a training course in California. He got stiffed by his employer for the expense money. Now he sleeps under the railroad tracks and his fiancee, Margie, is in a shelter. They sell the Homeless Voice newspaper on the 16th Street Mall to survive. People walk by them as though they are invisible. Craig’s feet are covered with blisters from walking everywhere. Margie worries about Craig’s safety every time she says goodnight to him. Now when he sees worse off homeless people he takes them leftover food or a smoke. He doesn’t view them the same way.

They say many of us are one paycheck or one crisis away from homelessness. As more and more people lose their jobs, their insurance and their homes, the face of homelessness is changing. The folks at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (www.coloradocoalition.org) say its a state of emergency. The safety net is full of holes. For Darlene, Jacob, Teddy, Craig and Margie it just sucks.