Through a New Lens
By Alex Gheysens
Homelessness is an omnipresent issue in Denver. When I walk to work wearing my suit and tie in the morning, I pass countless homeless people along the sidewalk. Occasionally I will hand out a dollar or some change, foolishly telling myself that was my good deed for the day. How wrong could I be? My dollar could potentially make their day a bit easier, but the next day and the one after, they might not receive someone’s dollar.
Before I came to Denver, I let Nelson know that I was interested in working with homeless people. When I arrived, he connected me with St. Francis Center, a homeless shelter in Denver. Expecting a small venue with maybe a soup kitchen and some bathrooms, I thought it would be a fairly slow job. However, I was immediately overwhelmed. The space was enormous and there were at least a hundred homeless people hanging out in the main area. St. Francis Center has bathrooms and showers, a laundry facility, a storage system, a mail room, mental health resources, career advisors, a clothes store, and many other services available – ones that I would soon be helping out with.
When I got my initial tour with Beth, the volunteer coordinator, I mistakenly generalized many of the homeless people. I for sure thought they were all unemployed and had been on the streets for a while. Beth told me that many of them have jobs, families, and were actually very successful in life. Unexpected circumstances just threw obstacles at them that they could not plan for. Each person has their own unique story and holds so much value. It is something that could happen to any of us, really.
After working some more hours at St. Francis Center, I have developed a deep respect for the community we assist. These folks are so hopeful and ambitious and realize that this is just a part of their story, but definitely not the end. During my time there, I have always been treated respectfully and it has been a joy getting to know everyone. I am starting to encounter some familiar faces on the streets of Denver, and they do not hesitate to greet me.
Knowing that I am actually making a difference in their lives, something my lousy handouts of change did not do, is a very rewarding experience. Bonita once said that we are all neighbors in Denver. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO, student, or homeless person, we all share this city and need to take care of each other. I can only hope that if I were to ever need this kind of assistance, someone would have my back as well.