This reporter has never been homeless for more than a couple of nights at a time, usually in the context of crashing on somebody’s couch or missing the last bus back from Boulder. He ventured upon a sleeping old man in a downtown alley one winter evening more than twenty years ago, his first excited teenage venture “downtown” where all the punk rockers lived, in the longest-standing portion of Denver’s street grid. As a result, he invented a character called Old Greenshoe, later resurrected as a mythic archetype in a story he wrote in grad school after falling in love with Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, where an aspiring writer starves himself rather than live by anything but art. This has been my disconnected perspective on the issue homelessness, as a selective tourist of human experience by choice but undeniably due to advantage.
Social lessons are learned by people en masse in cycles, predictable failures of equality repeated in different forms until their final resolution—If such a thing is even possible. It seems likely to go on working itself out forever. People are born into life with one set of coordinates or another according to this social fractal, and that’s where they start from. There are echoes of the Salem witch triers in the anti-choice movement, echoes of the Black Panther Party in the Black Lives Matter movement, and echoes of Roman disdain for the servi class in society’s attitude to the transient population, long a source of classic American fiction, from Woody Guthrie to Herbert Huncke, who spent years riding boxcars and hanging around Times Square, and reportedly first used the word “beat” in Kerouac’s presence. The whole Beat Generation was overcast by the Old Greenshoe in the form of Denver’s Neal Cassady Sr., sometime barber on Larimer St. In skid row days, whose son Neal was immortalized as Dean Moriarty in on the Road, and went on to drive Ken Kesey’s magic school bus in the psychedelic sixties. The homeless experience formerly representative of something rootless and vital in American culture, is ever more overtly considered a crime against normalcy and militated against by anti-public camping ordinances and laws against feeding the hungry.
Mayor Hickenlooper has recently announced enaction of a plan for affordable housing for artists in outlying rural areas starting in Trinidad. It seems like he’s doing a good deed, at the same time, “it’s like he’s trying to get rid of us,” as read one comment on Facebook. This reporter wouldn’t like to move to Trinidad, but maybe that will have to happen, with rent prices ballooning insanely and unstoppably in the metro area, largely as a result of weed tourism. That said, a lot of people lack the means to relocate physically. Denver’s homeless population was understandably panicked by the near closure of the Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Community Center for the Homeless by Ballpark neighborhood residents just as the temperatures started to drop, which issue has since been resolved for the time being.
Long a participant in Denver’s spoken word scene, years ago, this reporter made the acquaintance of writer and artist D.J. Razee, recent scion of a formerly grand Denver family, whose father was a former student of Neal’s benefactor Justin W Brierly at East High. “Our family lived just off Colfax on Steele and Adams…my great grandfather was a trapshooter, and my grandfather worked for Remington Arms out by Denver Federal Center with the US Government. The Razee family has a rich Denver history, and I would love to show some people the house we had in Cherry Hills…it was the first woman architect and her husband’s, the pro golfers house, and sits over on Shangri La…by that park with the sculptures and the Target . . . and Colorado Blvd. . . . the house was designed by a famous Boulder architect . . . probably a friend of the families . . . the grandson of the architect or son made a webpage for the house, look under the Razee House. I have some strings that need tied in the mythology of the Beats. My father was one of many that met Jack and Neal on the road. My father said that Jack was writing down everything that my father said at the bar…big lie…maybe the journal was on the bar, but he had already written On the Road by 1953, in the West End Bar near Columbia..I am not sure if I have ever told you the story about Justin pulling on his boy man armpit pubes after class . . . Brierly must have been quite the character at East HIgh School.”
The homeless population is routinely denied a voice in the media, both nationally and locally, as if their portion of the populace has forfeited its right to attention by failing to prosper financially. Razee is lately homeless himself, advocating for a Bill of Rights for Homeless, a “homeless co op hotel run by homeless for homeless,” and the establishment of transitional care centers for recently released inmates typically thrown back into the rat race without a helping hand.
“I am going to be at the Denver Marriott to cover the FBI story,” he sent recently in an email politely requesting a signed copy of The Denver Beat Scene. ”Can I count on you to be there or should I ask someone else? The ex director of the FBI is in town and Aaron Harber is hosting a show on the radio. I am going downtown to meet with my people, apply for a job and take over the radio show with our ‘lack of voices’…I am going to have a little stare down with the united states government and see who blinks.”
“Not my sort of activity,” your reporter answered, “but good luck. I mean the govt. staredown stuff, but I’ll give you a signed copy, sure.”
“It’s all good,” he responded, “We all have a role to play.”
I saw Mr. Razee a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in several years, at a Mexican restaurant on 11th Ave and neither one of us fully recognized the other. But somehow I knew it was him, which was confirmed by a quick Facebook photo comparison. He was among the activists recently arrested when the Denver Police Department donned riot gear and obliterated a community of Tiny Houses located on Denver Housing Authority property at 25th and Lawrence Streets, a neighborhood formerly renowned for a proliferation of flophouses. He was among the recipients of an email I sent requesting letters be written to History Press advocating for revision of that Beat book I wrote to include, among other things, a vital commentary on the homeless situation in Denver from one connected to the Beat legacy. By the time they freed him, the judge reversed his decision regarding the Lawrence Street Homeless Communty Center, and things were looking slightly better for the homeless. Yesterday the first snow fell in Metro Denver. Please have a heart this winter, Denver. Spare some change. Donate some blankets or some food. Everyone’s an angel when the heart warms up.
By the way, whatever it’s worth, I heard it 3rd hand that housing prices will start going down in December.